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English, circa 1770 - 1799
Height 26” (66cm) Width 30.5” (77cm)
Stock No. 8685
John Read was born and lived in Bedford – St John’s Street in 1794 - and listed during the 1790s as both a painter and limnor – illustrator. He trained at least three young men as apprentices during that time. He was also listed as being employed as gamekeeper to John Lawson Esq., Bedfordshire, in 1788. As well as exhibiting two paintings at the recently formed Royal Academy in 1779, he exhibited a total of 31 paintings at the Society of Artists in London between the years 1773 and 1783. All his exhibited works at these two institutions were those that demonstrated his technical skills and were in the form of still life and game. It was enterprise that inevitably drove him to paint commissions of prized animals, and there is evidence of paintings of this genre being produced until at least the turn of the century.
With the forming of the Royal Academy by a personal act of George 111 on 10th December 1768 in order to promote the arts of design in Britain, painters of note were given the opportunity to exhibit their work, and it was only contemporary art that attained the appropriate standard of excellence that was permitted therein. Sir Joshua Reynolds was one of the founders and he implemented the first ideals for the model of training and, amongst other things, stressed the importance of copying the old masters. He argued that such a training and approach to art would form artists capable of creating works of high moral and artistic worth. It was with this knowledge that the artists such as Read strove to replicate the quality of work of the old masters and readily adopted their ideals and techniques. The Society of Artists was founded in London in May 1761 by an association of artists, including Sir Joshua Reynolds and Francis Hayman, in order to provide a place, Spring Gardens, Charing Cross, for public exhibition of recent work by contemporary artists. They were granted a Royal Charter in 1765 with a membership of 211.
It was circa 1766 that George Stubbs was to obtain national fame as a painter of horses, having undertaken the dissection of an entire horse and drawn, engraved and published his results. The influence he was to have on a great many significant and notable artists of the time, and thereafter, was profound, with the majority adopting his style and mannerisms, if not his perceptive and critical eye for anatomical accuracy. One such artist was John Boultbee, student at the Royal Academy School from 1775, who regularly painted his subjects in a frieze-like arrangement against a distant landscape in a manner closely resembling that of Stubbs. It is of little surprise that, with the growing demand from wealthy landowners for the painting of their prized animals, other significant painters of the time would be also affected by the same influences as they met the need to create more and more animal portraiture. John Read’s work demonstrates many of the techniques and influences from the work of Stubbs and Boultbee, notably in the similarity of the subject matter and the adherence to the use of the frieze layout of his characters. Also common to this genre of painting is the insertion of another pet, such as the dog, or, occasionally, the rider or groom. His use of distant landscape is also reminiscent of Stubbs’ work and, although there is a naïve quality to the facial features of the horse, the anatomy demonstrates a fairly thorough knowledge, no doubt due to the adherence to Stubbs’ published drawings.