John Martin Tracy (American, 1843-1893) Haunt of the woodcock: Sensation and Bang Bang  30 x 50in. (76 x 127cm.)

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Lot 253
John Martin Tracy
(American, 1843-1893)
Haunt of the woodcock: Sensation and Bang Bang 30 x 50in. (76 x 127cm.)

US$ 100,000 - 150,000
£ 72,000 - 110,000
Property from a Private English Collection
John Martin Tracy (American, 1843-1893)
Haunt of the woodcock: Sensation and Bang Bang
signed 'JM Tracy' (lower right), a label on the stretcher states 'Oil painting belonging to Henry Title Sensation & Bang Bang / painted by J M Tracy'
oil on canvas
30 x 50in. (76 x 127cm.)


  • painted circa 1886

    Captain Henry Metcalfe
    Thence by descent

    Sensation (left) and Bang Bang (right) were the two most famous Pointers owned by the Westminster Kennel Club. The club was founded in the 1870s with the aim of improving the Pointer breed in the United States. The kennels were managed (1885-1892) by James Mortimer who had been brought over from England. Situated in Babylon, New York, at its height it housed upwards of 200 dogs. The kennel club in its early days was a casual group of society sporting men who enjoyed meeting up to boast of their hunting exploits and discuss the prowess of their dogs. Their gatherings took place in the bar of the Westminster Hotel from which the club derives its name.
    In 1876 the members of the Westminster Kennel club commissioned one of its members, George de Forest Grant, to go to England to look for a Pointer which the members could use for breeding purposes. He discovered a lemon and white dog with a particularly fine head registered under the name 'Don' that was having considerable success on the trial circuit.
    Don was owned by R Parr of Leaton Knolls in Shropshire, born in February 1874 and bred by JR Humphreys. He was by Price's Jim out of Nell. Jim was sired by Mr. Whitehouse's Hamlet, one of the important stud dogs and cornerstones of the breed who was equally remarkable in the field and at stud. Don was a first prize winner at Shifnal, Swansea and Camarthen and was placed second at shows in Llanelly, Newport, Oswestry and Birmingham.
    In 1876 Don was shipped to America where he was registered as 'Sensation' in Volume I of the stud book of the National American Kennel Club. His American Championship was gained with wins at Baltimore, Boston and St. Louis. A trophy he won at a field trial in 1880 is on display at the American Kennel club Museum of the Dog. His show career was limited however by his primary role and reason for import which was to strengthen the breeding stock of the Westminster Kennel Club.
    Several artists depicted Sensation but the defining image is that done by JM Tracy. Apart from a brief interruption between 1896-1903 Sensation's portrait in one form or another has been the official logo of the Westminster Kennel Club every year since 1877. The engraving of Tracy's painting of Sensation by J Wellstood showing the dog in point is the most famous and used to this day.
    Sensation died in 1887 at the age of 13 having spent his retirement in comfort in the home of Robert C Cornell, a New York attorney and charter member of Westminster. He was buried at the club's headquarters in Babylon alongside other famous Pointers. There was a flagpole above the grave on which stood a weather vane adorned with a Pointer, always to point into the wind. The American Field, 18 June 1887 on the dog's death stated 'The death of Sensation breaks a living link of the past and present in the history of the development of the Pointer in this country'.

    Bang Bang was born in January 1881 and like Sensation was also bred in England, his breeder being Fred C Lowe. He was sired by Price's Ch. Bang out of Princess Kate. Kate was by Ponto who in turn was by Whitehouse's famous dog Hamlet. Both Ponto's grandparents were owned by the Earl of Sefton, a great sportsman on whose ground the famous Greyhound coursing meeting, the Waterloo cup, was first run, also the Grand National Steeplechase. Kate's dam, Sappho, was owned by the Rev. Thomas Pearce (Idstone) who was one of the judges at the first trial held in Britain, which was for Pointers and Setters and which took place on the 18 April 1865 on the estate of Mr. Samuel Whitbread MP.
    Sam Price of Bow in Devon was regarded as the leading authority on Pointers and got huge figures for his dogs. His Ch. Bang was behind the best Pointers in Britain. Bang Bang won at shows and field trials in Britain and also at trials in Liege and Darmstadt before leaving Britains's shores for America where he continued to win. Both Sensation and Bang Bang were originally offered at stud for $35, their fees subsequently being increased to $50.
    As Sensation died in 1887 and Bang Bang had not been in America all that long, the present lot was probably completed circa 1886 with an engraving published by Forest and Stream Publishing Company circa 1890 priced at $3. Images of both dogs from the engraving were reproduced in the Westminster Kennel Club show catalogue in 1893 and the heads of both dogs also appeared on the Westminster show prize cards.

    John Martin Tracy was born near Rochester, Ohio in 1843. Tracy was a product of those tumultuous years, his abolitionist father was killed in an anti-slavery uprising and his mother was a leading light of the women's suffrage and Women's Christian Temperance movement. In 1861 he enlisted as a volunteer in the 19th Illinois Infantry where during the Civil War he decided to make art his livelihood. He saved to go to the École des Beaux Arts in Paris and returned to paint Californian landscapes. After another spell in Paris where he honed his draughtsmanship skills he returned to start a portrait studio. The training in drawing from memory would serve him well when drawing dogs.
    The present lot was painted when Tracy was at the height of his powers. The illness that made him move to the warmer climes of Mississippi had not yet set in. His reputation was forged in this period when he was painting portraits of animals in imaginative landscape settings which were also handled with consummate skill showing the influence of the Barbizon School he had absorbed in his time in France. The haunt of the woodcock displays his talent for capturing the specific poses and details of his subjects and also the landscape they inhabit, making it a wonderful record of two important Pointers and an important work of art in its own right.

    We are grateful to Nick Waters and Karen Blasche for their assistance in cataloguing this lot.

Saleroom notices

  • The logo incorporating Sensation's image that is presently being used by the Westminster Kennel Club is after a work by Wellstood, not John Martin Tracy as stated in the essay in the printed catalog.
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