Wednesday 18 September 2019

Paintings back in the saddle again

Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables column

Equine equity: Bay horse paintings by 19th-century animal artist Sam Spode, on sale via Adam's on October 10 (set of two)
Equine equity: Bay horse paintings by 19th-century animal artist Sam Spode, on sale via Adam's on October 10 (set of two)
Bay horse painting by 19th-century animal artist Sam Spode
Victorian sideboard

Eleanor Flegg

If you have an old-fashioned painting of a slightly misshapen horse, don't discard it.

It could be one by the 19th-century animal painter Sam Spode, who had it all worked out. He charged three guineas to paint a horse and two guineas to paint a dog. If you wanted a rider on the horse, it would set you back five guineas. This was a popular service.

In 1859, he advertised in the Wexford Independent that: "Mr Spode, has, this last winter painted 39 Hunters and Chargers, in the Country of Cork, with the greatest applause; and his written recommendations from the sporting men of Ireland, are numerous and excellent."

Sam Spode's work regularly fetches between €2,000 and €4,000 at auction. Occasionally, it does very well indeed. In 2012 Spode's painting of a King Charles Spaniel, dated 1835, sold at Sotheby's, New York, for US$53,125 (€45,253).

Sam Spode (1798-1872) isn't what the auctioneers would term an "important artist". He was the 19th-century equivalent of a sports photographer, who spent his life travelling around the country, going to racecourses and following the hunt, and advertising his portraiture services in the local newspapers. But if you like dogs and horses, there's something very appealing about his straightforward animal portraits.

He was born in Tasmania, the grandson of Josiah Spode I, founder of the English Spode pottery. As a young man, Sam Spode was involved in a near-fatal carriage accident. It's been suggested that his chaotic lifestyle from this point on may have been due to brain injury, caused by a bang on the head.

Sam Spode was an engaging, but not very responsible, person. He had at least four wives and many girlfriends, with considerable amount of overlap between them, and many children.

Spode was trained as a lawyer but preferred painting. In the 1820s, he moved to England and visited Ireland many times until, in the 1850s, he made it his home. At the time of his marriage to his fourth wife in Dublin, his third was still living in England. He is buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, Dublin, in an unmarked grave.

There are four horse paintings by Spode in Adam's auction of Country House Collections, which takes place at Townley Hall on October 10.

One is of a bay hunter, Ivanhoe, in a stable with his rug and bucket, inscribed with the initials CA (est. €3,000 to €5,000). Another two of Spode's horse paintings (est €6,000 to €10,000), to be sold as a pair, show a chestnut hunter and a bay hunter (pictured above), each in their stables. A fourth painting, showing a chestnut racehorse in a stable with a terrier at his feet (est. €800 to €1,200) was once the property of Captain HCP Hamilton of Moyne, Durrow, Co Laois. Given the way that Spode priced his work, you'd wonder if Captain Hamilton had to pay extra for the terrier.

Spode's works have often been sneered at by the art world. In a way, you can see why. They were unpretentious crowd pleasers. You can certainly see the contrast between his hurried paintings and two, highly skilled, horse portraits by John Emms (1843-1912), which are also part of the Townley Hall sale. You are unlikely to come across an overlooked Emms painting at a car-boot sale, though. Even at a glance, they look valuable.

With Sam Spode, you got what you paid for. A portrait of a horse in a stable was just that. The backgrounds are often identical. Some of the horses are very similar too. He was capable of painting well, but many of his horse portraits are stylised, naïve, and anatomically innovative. Spode could paint a horse in a landscape background if required - presumably this cost more - but it was often more or less the same background. Many of them look as though they were painted against the clock.

His customers don't seem to have minded at all. Spode's biographer (and direct descendant) Peter Roden notes in an article published in the Clonmel Chronicle on June 24, 1857: "The striking similitude of each individual animal is so faithful that we could pick out each horse from our own casual knowledge of him… All these favourite horses are in the pictures, familiar to our eye as a household word, and the fidelity of their portraits does the artist very much credit."

To 19th-century horse owners, the sameness was part of their charm. All their friends would be able to recognise a Spode painting.

Apart from the animal portraits painted for their owners, Spode also painted famous horses. One of his portraits of the Duke of Wellington's famous charger, Copenhagen, sold at Christie's, London, in 2002. The inscription boasted that this was "the 100th picture of him painted by Mr Spode". As likenesses, some were on the slapdash side. The real-life Copenhagen was a dark chestnut with two white heels. Spode, as Roden points out, painted him with one white heel: sometimes the left, sometimes the right.

This type of inaccuracy, now frowned upon, was more acceptable at the time. Anecdotally, English painter Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) undertook a portrait of Copenhagen for Lady Charles Wellesley. The horse was painted accurately, as a chestnut, but Lady Wellesley preferred greys and asked the artist to change its colour.

Adam's Country House Collections auction takes place at Townley Hall, Drogheda, Co Louth, Tuesday October 10 at 11am;

For more on Spode, see

In the salerooms

John Weldon Auctioneers

One of the charms of silver is that it comes in so many forms. On the crudest level, you can buy it by weight. There are two Irish kilo bars of sterling silver (est €600 to €800 each) in John Weldon Auctioneers’ next sale of Fine Jewellery & Silver, on October 10 at 2pm in Cow’s Lane, Temple Bar, Dublin 8. Otherwise, silver is often sold in the form of delicately crafted objects like a boxed set of six Georgian silver berry spoons dated between 1794 and 1810 (est €250 to €450). Made for eating berries, the silver spoons are gold-plated on the bowls to protect the silver from acidic fruit juices. Jewellery highlights range from a fine diamond single stone ring (est €15,000 to €20,000) to a diamond and tanzanite cluster ring set in platinum (est €2,000 to €3,000). See

Antiques & Vintage Fairs

Vintage Ireland’s largest fair yet will take place at the Royal Marine Hotel, Dun Laoghaire, on October 8 from 11am to 6pm. Expect the curious and quirky as well as traditional collectibles like rare coins and vintage books. Entry is €3.50 and details are on For serious bookworms, the Dublin Book Fair, takes place at the Freemasons’ Hall, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2, on October 7 to 8. The fair, sponsored by Bonhams, brings together antiquarian book sellers from Ireland and the UK. Highlights include a first edition of Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls, 1960 (£750). It’s inscribed by O’Brien to Olivia Manning, author of The Balkan Trilogy and The Levant Trilogy. The fair is organised by the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association and admission is €3.


Eyles of Bath.jpg
Victorian sideboard

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” wrote Daphne du Maurier in her 1933 novel, Rebecca. Fans of that spooky novel will be drawn to the weird and wonderful Victorian sideboard in Adam’s Country House Collections auction, at Townley Hall, Drogheda, Co Louth, on October 10 at 11am. The sideboard (above, €10,000 to €15,000) comes from the coastal Cornish house, Menabilly, inspiration for Manderley, where du Maurier lived for decades. It’s a marine-inspired oak piece with a rope border, dolphin ends and sea-horse pedestals, made in the manner of Henry Eyles of Bath. Other, more conventional, attraction include an Irish Georgian architectural style mirror by John and Francis Booker (est €50,000 to €80,000) and a Killarney marquetry davenport desk (est €20,0


Matthews Auction Rooms will conduct a sale of the contents of 43 Lower Dodder Road on the premises on October 8 at 1.30pm. The house was home to Felicity Deady-Hannon (1935-2012) an active collector from the 1960s to 1990s, as well as inheriting some things from the family home. See

Indo Property

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