William Henry Davis (British c.1783-1865) Five prize pigs in a sty 30.5 x 40.7 cm. (12 x 16 in.)
Lot 28
William Henry Davis
(British c.1783-1865)
Five prize pigs in a sty 30.5 x 40.7 cm. (12 x 16 in.)
Sold for £ 7,800 (US$ 10,891) inc. premium

Lot Details
William Henry Davis (British c.1783-1865)
Five prize pigs in a sty
signed and dated 'W.H.Davis 1854' (lower right)
oil on canvas
30.5 x 40.7 cm. (12 x 16 in.)

Footnotes

  • William Henry Davis was born on 19th. May 1783 in Chelsea. Little is known of his childhood but, by the time he was twenty, he had acquired sufficient skill and confidence to submit a portrait of Mrs. J. Biddulph and children to the Royal Academy. His leaning towards animal subjects at this early stage of his career was demonstrated by his other exhibit in 1803, entitled ‘Piggs’. He exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1806 and 1810.
    Over the next fifteen years he earned and consolidated his reputation as a sporting animal painter. He exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy, British Institution and the Society of British Artists. His patrons included Lord Rivers, the Earl of Ilchester and Lord Lynedock. By the time he was forty, in 1823, his reputation as a sporting painter was well established.
    Davis now turned his attention more towards livestock portraiture. In 1828 he exhibited ‘A Prize Ox’ and published a lithograph of the ‘Isle of Ely Prize Ox’, followed a year later by ‘A Durham Prize Ox’, which he showed at Suffolk Street. By 1835, his prints and exhibition entries declared that he was ‘Animal Painter to her Majesty’. There is no record of any warrant of appointment to Queen Adelaide and the title must be assumed to be self styled.
    During this period there were many agricultural magazines, journals and periodicals. One of the most prestigious was the ‘Farmers’ Magazine’ which had been in existence for many years. In 1835, Davis was commissioned by this magazine to record various prize winning animals at some of the major agricultural shows. This happy association was to last for the next twenty-nine years until his death. William Henry Davis produced over 160 livestock portraits during this period which were reproduced in the magazine as steel engravings. Over the next few years, he continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy but, as his livelihood was derived from livestock portraiture, his subjects at the Academy were more of a personal choice.
    The Smithfield Club Show each Christmas was one of Davis’ favourite events and many of his paintings, lithographs and engravings are of beasts which won prizes at this show. The Chelsea historian, George Bryan, writing in 1869 recalled that ‘he was considered to be one of the best animal portrait painters and was constantly employed every Smithfield Cattle Show, his works being highly prized’. He continued to work up to the year of his death (December 1864), using much the same style as he had throughout his sixty year long career. He started out as a competent and conventional sporting painter and in his mid-forties he changed course and responded to the demand for livestock portraiture. He was an artist influenced by the events in his lifetime and he enjoyed the reputation that came with his success. He deserves recognition not only as a painter but above all for his contribution to the agricultural record of his day. He witnessed, recorded and indirectly helped to foster the improvements of British livestock. For both agricultural and art historians, his legacy of paintings and prints remains to be fully appreciated.
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