Thursday, May. 23, 2024

Richard Newton’s Hunting Scenes Have A Timeless Charm

Fortunately for foxhunters today, the portrait painter and MFH of the Suffolk Hounds in East Hampton, N.Y.--Richard Newton Jr. (1874-1951)--also took up his palette and brushes to paint his everyday experiences. Newton's paintings depict a rich sporting life involving horses, hounds and hunting.

Since first coming back into public attention in 2002, the canvases of this largely forgotten sporting artist have been under-going renewed critical examination.
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Fortunately for foxhunters today, the portrait painter and MFH of the Suffolk Hounds in East Hampton, N.Y.–Richard Newton Jr. (1874-1951)–also took up his palette and brushes to paint his everyday experiences. Newton’s paintings depict a rich sporting life involving horses, hounds and hunting.

Since first coming back into public attention in 2002, the canvases of this largely forgotten sporting artist have been under-going renewed critical examination.

Fascination with this artist who inhabited two worlds, New York City and the countryside of Long Island, began for me in 1999, when as the director of the Museum of Hounds and Hunting, Leesburg, Va., I became intrigued by a rather novel sporting painting.

By May 2002, I was ready to put Newton’s name back in front of the foxhunters with an exhibition of canvases which were still held in private collections in the hunting centers of Millbrook and Geneseo, N.Y., and in Virginia. It seems that Newton was a traveler, but not a gypsy, however, for you will recall he was also a master of foxhounds, and most definitely not of the starving artist’s myth.

Newton grew up on Long Island and began painting the seaside landscapes of East Hampton. But in 1906, he began to turn his brush and canvas to his sporting interest–the hunt. Newton hunted in the heyday of the sport–the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1902, he was elected the first Master of the newly formed Suffolk Hunt. Suffolk’s hunt country was recorded as–remarkably–the eastern end of Long Island.

Suffolk’s hounds included a group that Newton brought back from England on an ocean liner, but the majority of the pack was purchased from the Orange County Hunt (N.Y.). Newton hunted the pack for 36 seasons, and they were disbanded in 1942. Newton remained a sportsman to the end, driving his four-in-hand coach through the streets of Southampton when 62 years old.

Newton’s talents, at once both painterly and precise, often captured the faithful likeness of his fellow Masters from the Meadow Brook (N.Y.), Genesee (N.Y.), Piedmont (Va.), Middleburg (Va.), Blue Ridge (Va.), Orange County (Va.) and Millbrook (N.Y.) hunts. Country Life magazine in September, 1919 describes the artist’s craft, referring to the painting The Grey Hunt Team–Suffolk Hounds, saying, “Mr. Newton is at his best depicting hunting scenes. Here he has caught most cleverly the feeling of sun-shot coolness of a September morning.”

Newton’s more casual scenes, painted one-by-one in the stable or as hounds were readied for hunting, were sold and dispersed. They document the era of American foxhunting in the early 20th century.

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Among my favorites in this oeuvre is a painting from 1916, Untitled, Hunter Barn. From Mrs. James McCormick’s private collection in Middleburg, Va., this canvas captures the spirit of the era, on a bright hunting morning.

Four horses are profiled at their half-doors, while an eager pack of hounds surround the huntsman. The animation of this moment is perceived not as chaos, but as tranquility. In Newton’s work, the link between painter and MFH is often demonstrated, as in this privileged kennel view.

We are behind the scenes as drama builds prior to the moment when the huntsman will mount up, collect the pack, and hack with his whippers-in to the meet. The orchestra is tuning-up.

Newton favored English hounds and hunted the Atlantic coast of Long Island, today collectively and socially known as the Hamptons. Writing in 1908 about the experience of foxhunting with the Suffolk, Higginson and Chamberlain in Hunting In The United States And Canada, present a travel guide with an admonition, noting that, “A better riding country it would be hard to find; the big upstanding post-and-rail fences meet one every few hundred yards, hounds run fast over the flat grass country and it requires a bold, big-jumping, clean-bred horse to live with the Suffolk.”

The full-cry excitement of being in the field when hounds are running is cleverly depicted in A Few of the Right Sort. This action-filled painting was published in The ABC of Drag Hunting, A Hunting Alphabet, a unique rhyme series penned by the artist’s first wife, Grace Clarke Newton. This collection of alphabetical verses was arranged and published by Newton together with his illustrations, after Grace’s untimely death.

A Few of the Right Sort illustrates perfectly the thrill of the chase, the beauty of the Suffolk’s territory and the formidable size of the fences. The present location of this canvas and the biographical content of the subjects have not been determined.

Very likely Newton learned to paint, as was the day’s custom, in William Merritt Chases’ Shinnecock Hills School, in the open air.

A Hunting Morn, from before 1917, shows how the stable could double as the studio. Newton favored gray horses, as did his friend and portrait-subject of 1914 and 1929, MFH of the Millbrook Hounds, Dr. Howard Collins. “From one who loves a gray, to one who has a good one” read Newton’s inscription on a print of this painting, which he re-titled as Foxy Quillet when he presented it to Dr. Collins.

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More than likely the horse actually depicted is Tornado, Newton’s own gray and the subject of a few poems by Mrs. Newton. This bold leader is patiently tied in the stable-yard with a selection of hounds underfoot. A scarlet coat, hunt cap and whip–the artist’s own perhaps–are casually hung on the doorframe indicating pre-hunting preparation.

Once again, the original canvas remains undiscovered. A Hunting Morn is the last selection from the paintings originally published in The ABC of Drag Hunting, which also features equestrian portraits of some of the day’s leading riders.

Lemon-yellow lantern light is the sole source of illumination in the 1925 painting Untitled, (Early Morning Stable Scene). Nostalgically, the painting transports the viewer to a pre-dawn hunting morning on Long Island.

Checking in on the grooming process, Newton depicts a scarlet-coated staff member and two amiable foxhounds. Ready in the wings, patient in green sheets trimmed in yellow piping, are the day’s three additional mounts. A brave barn cat safely surveys the scene. Today, overhead electric lights brightly shine during our early morning rituals, in contrast to the concentration and low angle of this single lantern light source.

Perhaps the most fitting conclusion to this selected casual Newton portfolio can be found by examining another of my favorite paintings, another history lesson, which dates from 1925 and is owned by the collector of the stable scene painting mentioned above.

Untitled, Hunt Scene with a Farmer’s Team brings a modern viewer to the artist’s own period. The right half of the canvas depicts what could be a 21st century hunting gallop. Proper turnout hasn’t changed, and no other clues to the paintings timeframe are provided, since tradition in the hunt field is consistent.

When viewing the left portion of the canvas, it is instantly apparent that the event is not contemporary. Fieldwork is suspended as an idle one-bottom hand plow, workhorse team and a farmer greet the oncoming hunt. The past and the present in this picture come into distinct focus as a once-common scene, precisely rendered, is now a quaint memory or more likely a scene never witnessed, by those who ride to hounds today.

As an artist, Newton can hold his own not only among the most competent sporting painters of his day, but also, it may be ventured, of all time.

John Head’s book, due in Oct. 2006, With Brush And Bridle–Richard Newton, Jr.–Artist And Equestrian is the culmination of his effort to restore the American painter to his rightful place among his peers.


John J. Head

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