The Story of a Painting, the Artist, and the Huntsman


Posted on Sunday, October 15, 2023
In: Articles
Written by: Words and sketches by Joseph Appleyard, republished with permission
Hunt:

Joe Appleyard was born in Armley, Leeds, in 1908 he was a prolific Sporting and Landscape Artist regularly exhibiting from the mid thirties until his untimely death in 1960.  In this story he talks about a commission to paint a huntsman and his hounds

I was commissioned by one of the joint masters of the Vale of Lune Harriers to paint four pictures of the hunt, the chief one being an oil painting of Alf Stather, the well known huntsman and his hounds.

I well remember leaving Leeds on a Thursday morning. It was January and bitterly cold, sleet and snow were falling, in addition to a biting east wind. Hardly inviting or promising weather for outdoor work at which one must either sit or stand comparatively motionless for considerable periods of time.

I knew I would be treading on hallowed ground, as Turner painted the castle and most of the district round Hornby, in the early part of the last century.

On arrival at Hornby my limbs were stiff and numb, the snow and sleet had changed to torrential rain. The conductor helped me off with my sketching tackle and bade me a hearty good night as he slammed the door of that comfortable bus.

Next morning I made my way with sketching tackle to the kennels, situated on high ground overlooking the castle farm.

Alf Stather met me with a friendly chuckle and a hearty handshake. A keen looking man with shaggy eyebrows, beneath which twinkled boyish-like eyes.

I was then introduced to his wife, a charming, and I should imagine, a most methodical woman. After a brief conversation I went with Alf into the kennels, and on seeing the pack as a whole, I asked him if he would select his best ten hounds. They were soon singled out and mustered into an enclosed yard. These ten were to be featured in the foreground of my painting and this would be the most exacting part of my work for they had to be true-to-life portraits.

Whilst these chosen hounds are running and snooping around I observe more closely the build, pattern, character and action of each hound. When satisfied, I fix up my easel in the adjoining sheltered yard, placing a sheet of paper on the drawing board. Making sure that I have made my dipper of water secure and placing my water-colour box in a handy position, I beckon to Alf to bring in the first hound. The hound dashes in full of spirit and entity, “Hayard” is his name, a nicely patterned black, tan, and white specimen of the pack.

I then sketch him in pencil, freely and quickly on to the paper. After much dashing around (and even much more coaxing by his master to get him to stand in profile) the outline is eventually finished.

My water-colours then come into play and rapidly I wash in the colours, starting probably with the tan colour, then on to black and finally finishing with an opaque white .

“Hayard” is then put back into the kennel and the next hound to be portrayed is brought in. This is a fine bitch hound by the name of “Pansy”. The same sketching and painting process is repeated and so on with each hound through the series of ten, “Pilot”, “Harmony”, “Harriet”, “Hilda”, “Brenda”, “Captain”, “Pastime”, and “Vera”.

The next working drawings are of Alf and his horse. Back in the huntsman’s house whilst he is changing into his scarlet coat, Mrs. Stather serves a welcome cup of tea and biscuits. Alf then takes me to the stables. A girl groom leads out his horse, a rather large common-looking bay mare, named Miss Parry. The girl takes off the rug, the mare being already saddled and bridled. I then ask Alf to mount and pose for me, making sure that he is in a natural relaxed position and not sitting bolt upright and stiff which is unfortunately customary when a rider poses for either artist or photographer.

I put another sheet of paper on the board and place it on the easel, making a point of not being too near my models. I take up a position about four yards from them on the near side of the horse. I am now ready to begin.

At this moment I am not interested in the horse, but the position and colour of the huntsman.

Sketching

I sketch him in on the paper with a pencil and try as much as the small area of space will allow, to get something of the facial likeness. To me, I find this my most difficult task, but having a knowledge of the huntsman’ s character helps considerably in getting most of his likeness in the sketch. Taking up the water-colours I perhaps start on his face, and then follow on with, say, jacket, breeches, and boots, and finish with the cap and gloves.

Whilst the artist is sketching he notes whether the rider has a tendency to lean either in a forward or backward position, how the cap fits on the head, how he holds his crop and reins, the position of the boot in the stirrup iron, and how the scarlet coat “swings ” over the back of the horse, in fact all the details which the patron is bound to look for in the finished painting.

Next I take up my sketch book and pencil and make a sketch of Alf and the horse, this time to ensure correct proportion of horse and rider.

When this sketch is finished I can let him resume his normal duties, whilst I concentrate on a coloured sketch of the mare.

As the girl holds her, I make a good pencil sketch of the head and bridle. I make close-up drawings of the body, legs, and tail, observing how the mare “carries ” her tail.

These drawings are indispensable when doing the finished painting in the studio.

When these drawings have been made in the sketch book, I return to the easel with a fresh sheet of paper on the board. At the same distance as in the first case I take up my position at the easel and again make a careful study in colour. When finished, this completes the artist’s day, the sun is just going down, there is a chill in the air. I shiver a little, rubbing my hands, now blue with cold. I have visions of the hotel dining-room with its cosy fire, and a well-earned meal ready served on the table.

With these appetising thoughts I take the sketches, put them into my portfolio, take down my easel and pack my other belongings into my old ruc-sac, feeling content with my day’s work.

Alf told me during the afternoon where to go for a suitable background for the painting, and when to take leave of him, he explained in detail how I would get there.

Next morning fortified with bacon and eggs I set out to the hill, south of Gressingham, a village about three miles from Hornby. It was a perfect morning, a hoar frost had settled everywhere and the sun was just breaking through the mist.

I paused at the Old Lune Bridge, and admired the long stretch of country on the eastern banks, which serves as a course for the hunt’s point-to-point meeting.

It was ten o’clock when I got to Gressingham, one of the most attractive villages it has been my pleasure to visit in recent years. I branched left from the village, walked on for another mile and eventually came to the scene which Alf had chosen for me. What a grand sight it was! A view commanding, I should think, the best of the Lune and Wenning Valley, with Hornby Castle in the middle distance towards the left.

The Painting

It did not take long to rig up my easel and start the sketch in water-colours. It came out as well as I had hoped. Satisfied with the results, I returned to Gressingham and sketched at my leisure near the ancient church, for the rest of the afternoon.

Mr. Everett, the Joint master, had explained that a further two paintings of the hunt were left to my discretion, a third one being of two favourite hunters on the same canvas.

My work was completed for the first of the paintings, the two hunting subjects following in a similar vein during the week, which show hounds in full cry near Aughton and hounds returning to kennel, passing through Hornby village.