Sporting Art and Sporting Life: Art and Archives at Mount Stuart

Essay by Oliver Cox

This study uses equine culture and sporting art as a lens for analysing the collecting and display strategies of the Bute family during two distinct phases in the family’s history, during the mid-eighteenth and late twentieth centuries. Horses, both in the flesh and on canvas, helped to broker and enable new political relationships for John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713–1792) at the heart of eighteenth-century government. In the twentieth century the ambitious and focused collecting strategies of John Crichton-Stuart, 4th Marquess of Bute (1881–1947) distinguished him as a patron and collector of significant repute, at a time more usually associated with aristocratic retrenchment.

Works of art and archival material in the Bute Collection at Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute document the sense of movement and dynamism inherent in the use of horses as a tool for political brokerage in the eighteenth century. Extant inbound correspondence to the 3rd Earl of Bute sheds light on the different strategies used by individuals jostling for political position and demonstrates the extent to which equine bloodstock could secure influence. The 3rd Earl’s enthusiasm for a particular form of horsemanship – haute école – took on new political significance in the turbulent politics of the 1760s.

In the twentieth century the 4th Marquess’s collection of sporting art is a more transitory feature of the Bute Collection, with the majority of pictures entering the collection in the 1930s before being sold by Christie’s in 1999. The sale catalogue for this collection described it as ‘the most representative sporting collection of its time’.1 It provides an important twentieth-century case study for analysing the relationship between dealers, agents and patrons, as well as considering the importance of new tax arrangements that impacted both collecting and display practices within the country house.

Proximity to Power: Horses and Politics

Born in Edinburgh, John Stuart succeeded to his father’s titles and lands in January 1723, aged nine, under the guardianship of his uncles, the Duke of Argyll and the Earl of Ilay.2 Between 1724 and 1730, Bute was at Eton College. He was a near contemporary of Horace Walpole and William Pitt the Elder. Later he studied civil law at the University of Leiden and married Mary, the only daughter of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and her husband Edward, in 1735. Bute dabbled, rather unsuccessfully, in politics for the next six years before returning to Mount Stuart in 1741.

By 1744, Bute was struggling with life on the Isle of Bute, confiding to his fellow Etonian Thomas Worsley: ‘Judge you how much occasion I have for books horses &c. More than any lady you know, I try to banish Melancholly, but I own my friend it has often incapacitated me.’3 Worsley, born in 1711, was one of Bute’s most significant correspondents. The two men wrote to each other for most of their adult lives, discussing horses, architecture, family life and politics. Worsley was a polymath, with a broad range of interests nurtured during his extensive travels in Europe during the 1730s. After succeeding his father in 1751, Worsley dedicated himself to rebuilding the family seat, Hovingham Hall, Yorkshire. There, while serving George III as Surveyor-General, he created a significant library.4

The first section of this study explores Worsley’s and Bute’s shared fascination for horses, in particular for a form of training and riding horses known as haute école, the complex series of movements and display now known as dressage.5 Haute école was a continental phenomenon codified for English audiences by William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle, in La Méthode Nouvelle et Invention Extraordinaire de Dresser les Chevaux (1657–8), written during his exile in Antwerp.6 Cavendish commissioned a sequence of illustrations of haute école techniques from Rubens’s former pupil, Abraham van Diepenbeke, which were engraved for La Méthode Nouvelle by François Clouet, Pieter de Jode and Lucas Vorsterman.

After the Restoration, Cavendish produced a supplement to La Méthode Nouvelle titled A New Method and Extraordinary Invention to Dress Horses, and work them according to nature; as also to perfect nature by the subtlety of Art (1667). He also built riding houses at Bolsover Castle and Welbeck Abbey to train his horses according to this system.7 In the eighteenth century, Cavendish’s descendants collaborated with the London printer John Brindley to produce a version comprising a precise translation of La Méthode Nouvelle and illustrations made from the original engraved plates, published as A General System of Horsemanship in 1743.8

Recent scholarship emphasises the connection between seventeenth-century politics and Cavendish’s writing on horsemanship. As Monica Mattfeld suggests:

‘The manège, beautiful horsemanship, was far from a useless pastime, as far as Cavendish was concerned. It remained central to his notion of militaristic and honourable masculinity and continued to define his ideal political animal.’9

Likewise, Donna Landry has explored how a rider’s position in the saddle could be equated with their political persuasions. A looser, lighter hold on the reins, described by Landry as ‘free forward movement’, became the dominant form of horsemanship in the eighteenth century and thus ‘an enactment of and analogy for political liberty and imperial adventuring’.10

It was Bute’s passion for horses that provided him with the entrée into royal circles that not only transformed his family’s fortunes but also left a lasting legacy across the terrain of mid- to late eighteenth-century politics and collecting (fig. 1). In 1747 at Egham Races, Bute by a stroke of fortune happened to be the only earl in the right place at the right time and was duly summoned to play cards with Frederick, Prince of Wales. Frances Boscawen, the prominent ‘Bluestocking’, described the encounter in some detail to the political memoirist Nathaniel William Wraxall: Bute, ‘as he did not at the Time keep a Carriage, or did not use it to convey him to the Race Ground’, was given a lift with his apothecary. Rain stopped racing so Bute played cards while his original companion, the apothecary, left Egham in his carriage:

‘The Prince was no sooner made acquainted with the Circumstance, than he insisted on Lord Bute’s accompanying him to Cliefden [Cliveden], and there passing the night. He complied, rendered himself extremely acceptable to their Royal Highnesses, and thus laid the Foundation, under a succeeding Reign, of his political elevation, which flowed originally in some measure from this strange contingency.’11

circa 1715. Oil on canvas, 112.4 × 154.9 cm. Private Collection.

Figure 1.
John Wootton, The Warren Hill, Newmarket, circa 1715. Oil on canvas, 112.4 × 154.9 cm. Private Collection.

Digital image courtesy of Christie's. (All rights reserved)

For later commentators, reflecting on the enormous political upheavals of the 1760s, caused in part by Bute’s relationship with Frederick’s son, George III, this meeting could be interpreted as laying the foundations for improper influence. A more feasible explanation is that Bute seized this unexpected opportunity presented by the proximity of Egham Races to the estate of his uncle, Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll (his erstwhile guardian), at Whitton.

During the next decade Bute consolidated his position in three royal households. Appointed a Gentleman of the Bedchamber to Prince Frederick in 1750, Bute also developed a close friendship with Princess Augusta, because, as Bute’s future under-secretary Charles Jenkinson observed, the Princess ‘liked Lord Bute as the only person about her husband who was attached to her on her own account’.12 Frederick’s premature death in 1751 gave Bute prominence in the dowager Princess Augusta’s household, leading to his appointment as George, Prince of Wales’s principal tutor and adviser in 1755, before being made Groom of the Stole in Prince George’s household in 1756.13 From this moment, the attentions of those writing to Bute turn increasingly to matters of patronage and preferment, with horses frequently acting as bargaining tools, as revealed by correspondence in the Mount Stuart archives.

Henry Herbert, 10th Earl of Pembroke, joined Bute in George’s new household as a Gentleman of the Bedchamber. Pembroke by his own admission was ‘horse mad’14 and sent in February 1757 a grey Spanish horse for Bute to inspect:

‘The horse is already a little tolerably dressed; Ld Pembroke hopes Ld Bute, if he approves of him, will permit him now & then to cross him to prevent him forgetting what he knows, & to bring him a little more forward. All he asks is ye preference of ye other false Colts of London.’15 Having supplied Bute with a new dressage horse that summer,16

Pembroke in January 1758 recommended his fencing master, Domenico Angelo, to teach George, Prince of Wales.17 In June 1757 Alexander Montgomerie, 10th Earl of Eglinton (who also became a Gentleman of the Bedchamber and introduced James Boswell to London living in 1760) wrote to Bute regarding a horse he felt ‘will do vastly well for you, he is not extremely beautiful but has the finest action I ever saw any Colt in my life’. He then telescoped politics and horseflesh together, informing Bute that: ‘I am at last determind [sic] to part with all my horses and turn Politician if therefore your Lordship knows of any of your new friends who want to be mounted I beg you will recommend my case.’18

Significantly, knowledge of Bute’s enthusiasm for Spanish horses spread throughout Europe. William Home, 8th Earl of Home – who was closely connected to Bute’s uncle, the Duke of Argyll – was the governor of Gibraltar from 1757 to 1761.19 Home wrote in June 1758:

I have done every thing in My power to get a Couple of Horses for your Ldp but without success. I went to the great Fair where I find there is no choice there are several brought in here but I think they are all Brutes, I have however ventured to send a Colt only rising four Year Old as Capt Montagu of the Monorque which sails tomorrow is so good as to carry him.20

Home was determined to ‘show you that I could not neglect any Comission [sic] you honor’d me with’, encouraging Bute to look at another Spanish horse recently imported, and reminding him that ‘if your Lp would have me send over any more I shall do the best I can’.21 Other correspondents tried different techniques for engaging Bute’s interest: one presented Bute with a turtle weighing 200 pounds,22 while William Watson, the scientist and a trustee of the recently established British Museum, sent him two nutmeg trees.23

Throughout his political ascendancy, Bute remained in close correspondence with Thomas Worsley. These letters, now in the Mount Stuart archive, centred on their shared passion for horses and architecture (fig. 2). Worsley wrote in 1758:

I have taken the liberty to enclose a list of part of my horses, purely to raise a smile, & to give myself the opportunity of addressing you, & telling you how I wish, I could have the pleasure of settling some of them before your eyes, young ones with high spirits & long tails, I was near saying I would give the best of them for a few hours of your company, I think I could please you, if supple shoulders & nimble haunches could.24

Letter from Thomas Worsley to Lord Bute, n.d. [1758] Mount Stuart Archives: BU/98/3/216

Figure 2.
Letter from Thomas Worsley to Lord Bute, n.d. [1758] Mount Stuart Archives: BU/98/3/216,

Digital image courtesy of The Bute Collection at Mount Stuart / Photo: Keith Hunter. (All rights reserved)

Worsley had bought for Bute his prize Spanish grey horse, Cortez, as well as sourcing horses for Prince Edward and coach horses for George III.25 The spoils of a thirty-year friendship were significant. Worsley was appointed the Surveyor General of the Office of Works in 1761, prompting Horace Walpole to describe him as a ‘creature of Lord Bute and a kind of riding-master to the king’.26 In addition to his placeman’s seat in Parliament for Orford (1761–68) and Callington (1768–74),27 the annual returns from the surveyorship were estimated to be about £900, plus rent-free accommodation in Scotland Yard and Hampton Court.28 It is likely that the combined efforts of Worsley, Bute and William Chambers lay behind the construction of the riding house at Buckingham Palace.29 Worsley’s obsession with horses is most clearly manifest at Hovingham Hall, where in place of a more conventional entrance hall he built a riding school, leading his nephew Thomas Robinson to conclude after a visit in 1765, ‘the place is very fine and pleasing but animus deficit equis [his mind is weakened by horses]’.30

Unlike Worsley or his contemporary and correspondent the Earl of Pembroke, Bute’s enthusiasm for haute école does not appear to have manifested itself in the commissioning of associated works of art – despite having constructed a riding house at Mount Stuart and going on to build another at his seaside residence, Highcliffe, Dorset, in the 1770s.31 Pembroke, by contrast, demonstrated his enthusiasm through both art and architecture. He built a riding school at his country seat, Wilton, had David Morier paint him and other members of his circle training their horses32 and commissioned his former riding teacher, Baron d’Eisenberg, to create in gouache fifty-five paintings depicting various stages of haute école training.33

Bute’s apparent lack of interest in pictures may, perhaps, be explained by the politics of the period. James Boswell, in his London journal, recalled a conversation with the Earl of Eglinton just after Bute’s resignation from the premiership in 1763:

I said ‘nothing but power and or riches could engage the mind of man when he comes to a certain Age; for that all other pursuits were frivolous & vain.’ ‘No Jamie, (said the Earl) I cannot agree with you. My Lord Bute is a strong instance that power is not a great enjoyment; for you see he gave it up very soon’.

Boswell strongly disagreed and harnessed familiar equine tropes to criticise Bute’s leadership:

He was not fit for power, & so he could not keep it. His complaining of power is just as if a very unskilful Rider should be thrown off, & then cry This riding is a damn’d bad exercise: Bute he is a bad Rider. Now My Lord Bute instead of getting upon one of his own highland Shelties, and then upon a Galloway, and so training himself by degrees, he must mount the great state-horse all at once.34

Bute’s political opponents, who clustered round the Marquess of Rockingham, were developing their own approaches to sporting art. In autumn 1762 Bute carried out a purge of Whig landed magnates – the so called massacre of the Pelhamite innocents – which deprived Rockingham of his lord lieutenancy of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Rockingham resigned as Lord of the Bedchamber and started a systematic campaign against Bute’s government. George Stubbs was one of the tools in Rockingham’s arsenal and was commissioned to produce a pair of canvases for Rockingham’s London home, 4 Grosvenor Square. Lion attacking a Horse (fig. 3) and Lion attacking a Stag have been interpreted as intensely political commissions, with the heraldic supports of Bute’s coat of arms – a horse and a stag – attacked by the lion of English liberty.35

Lion Attacking a Horse

Figure 3.
George Stubbs, Lion Attacking a Horse, 1762. Oil on canvas, 243.8 × 332.7 cm. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (B1977.14.71).

Digital image courtesy of Yale Center for British Art. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

These opponents not only mobilised sporting art against him but were also a different equine tribe: they were racing enthusiasts rather than connoisseurs of the riding school. And while connoisseurship did not extend to the patronage of sporting art in Bute’s earlier career, it was this same aesthetic sensibility in matters equine that informed Bute’s taste as, in later life, he formed one of the great collections of old-master paintings in the environs of his own architectural creation, Luton Park.

4th Marquess of Bute’s Collection of Sporting Pictures

Moving on into the twentieth century, a close study of the collection of sporting pictures assembled by John Crichton-Stuart, 4th Marquess of Bute in the decade from 1929 to 1939 provides valuable insights into the purchasing and display strategies used for non-indigenous collections in twentieth-century country houses. Born in 1881, Stuart inherited the marquessate as a minor in 1900, before coming of age in 1902. A note in the catalogue of sporting pictures compiled in 1968 suggests that the depiction of a King Vulture, by the Scottish animal and avian painter Edwin Alexander (1870–1926) was ‘the first painting bought by the 4th M. of Bute’.36

In his assiduous and determined collecting the 4th Marquess was guided and assisted by the rare book and art dealer Francis Harvey. Harvey was a significant actor in the market and has frequently been confused with his father (who died in 1900),37 his father’s firm at 4 St James’s Street (which he inherited in 1900)38 and with a Major Francis Harvey who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.39 The Butes had a long-standing relationship with Harvey’s firm. Harvey’s father had bought the thirteenth-century Murthly Hours for the 3rd Marquess in 188740 and the earliest record of interaction between the 4th Marquess and Francis Harvey is from about 1905 when Harvey sold Bute a ‘Charter of David II, King of Scots’.41 By 1930 Harvey was advertising ‘Old Engravings. Sporting Pictures’ in The Burlington Magazine42 and had been paid £125 for ‘Visiting Cdf. [Cardiff Castle], Edin. [Bute House, Edinburgh], M.S. [Mount Stuart] & D.H. [Dumfries House] and reporting on condition of pictures’, in addition to ‘making a detailed valuation of 735 pictures’. Harvey’s ‘Valuation of Pictures and Engravings’ was delivered in July 1930. He provided a total valuation of £609,725, including pictures at £561,825 and engravings at £47,900.43 Of these 625 paintings, only eleven were described as sporting pictures.

The collection of notes, memoranda and draft inventories in a painting file labelled ‘Pictures – Sporting: Old Lists, etc’, combined with picture accounts from 1910 to 1944, enable a detailed account of the 4th Marquess’s purchases. His collecting campaign began in earnest in 1929. The ‘Picture Accounts 1910–1944 (List I)’ records the purchase of Huntsman setting out or Lord Torrington’s Hunt Servants setting out from Southill, Bedfordshire by Stubbs for £5500 (fig. 4).44 The painting, from the collection of Colonel E. G. Hall, had been bought in London by M. Knoedler & Co. from Christie’s on 19 July 1929.45 Knoedler’s stock book records a price of £4410 before selling on the painting in August to P. D. Colnaghi & Co. for £5500,46 who then sold the painting to Bute. As Judy Egerton notes, ‘this price broke all records for Stubbs’ and antedated Paul Mellon’s first purchase of a Stubbs, Pumpkin, with a Young Stable Lad, by seven years.47 Bute’s rapid series of acquisitions continued with ‘Edward VI by Holbein’ for £9975 from Christie’s sale of the 4th Earl of Yarborough’s collection from his Brocklesby Park in the same month;48 J. E. Ferneley’s Lord Whitworth’s Favourite Hunters with Groom for £2750 ‘purchased from Lord Sackville from Knole’;49 before ending the year – purchasing through Francis Harvey – with Ben Marshall’s Grimalkin (1814) from Christie’s sale of Furst Trauttmansdorff’s collection50 and John Wootton’s Leeds, purchased from Spink for £400 via Christie’s sale of Lord Sherborne’s collection.51

Lord Torrington’s hunt servants setting out from Southill

Figure 4.
George Stubbs, Lord Torrington’s hunt servants setting out from Southill, Bedfordshire. The Bute Collection at Mount Stuart.

Digital image courtesy of The Bute Collection at Mount Stuart / Photo: Keith Hunter. (All rights reserved)

Harvey’s 1930 valuation gives a sense of how the 4th Marquess displayed his sporting pictures during the early years of collecting (see fig. 5). Eleven artists’ ‘Sporting &c’ pictures are listed, with six artists’ works – including the Stubbs – hanging at Cardiff Castle.52 The marquess’s most recent purchase, Wootton’s Leeds, hung in his London office at 26 Queen Anne’s Gate, while other recent purchases, Marshall’s Grimalkin (fig. 6), Dean Wolstenholme’s The Finish and Thomas Spencer’s Victorious53 were displayed in his London home at 39 Belgrave Square.

Valuation of Pictures and Engravings

Figure 5.
Francis Harvey, Valuation of Pictures and Engravings, July 1930, Mount Stuart Archive.

Digital image courtesy of The Bute Collection at Mount Stuart / Photo: Keith Hunter. (All rights reserved)

Grimalkin with jockey up

Figure 6.
Ben Marshall, Grimalkin with jockey up, with other figures at Newmarket. Private Collection.

Digital image courtesy of Christie's. (All rights reserved)

Bute’s new collection of sporting pictures was the dominant thread through the first half of the 1930s, with Harvey recorded most frequently in the painting accounts. In 1930, for example, 13 out of 19 pictures purchased were sporting, with 15 in total from Harvey. The next year was similar, with 23 new pictures, of which 15 were sporting and 14 purchased from Harvey. Eighteen pictures were purchased in 1932, despite the marquess’s secretary, Mary Power, writing to the dealer Commander Averkieff that ‘he is not interested in any kind of pictures at the present moment. He is still limiting his expenditure as far as possible, pending better times and lower income tax. Will things ever improve?’54

The 4th Marquess’s purchases were predominantly sporting and sat alongside efforts to purchase archival material relating to the family. Most notable, in this respect, was the purchase of a range of material related to the 3rd Earl of Bute for £125 from Edward and Violet Stuart Wortley, the owners of Highcliffe Castle,55 which included ‘sixty-seven volumes of the Earl of Bute’s work on Botany, with coloured plates’.56 The 4th Marquess also purchased a portrait of the 3rd Earl from Highcliffe, and instructed his agent W. J. Stanley to send the Stuart Wortleys a replacement copy by Moussa Ayoub (c.1873–1955).57 Ayoub, born in Syria, was a prolific portraitist and as a copyist benefitted from a significant trade in eighteenth-century British portraits during the 1930s.58

With war on the horizon the sporting pictures were redistributed around the family’s houses. In 1938, 85 sporting pictures, along with ‘Gas mask, etc. from basement’, were sent from 39 Belgrave Square to Cardiff Castle.59 A total of 99 sporting pictures are included in a ‘Complete List’ compiled from about late 1938 to 1940, with 80 hung in the stables.60 Those not hung in the stables included Henry and Samuel Alken’s hunting and coursing scenes in ‘Lady Bute’s room’, Ferneley’s Lord Whitworth and the Stubbs in the drawing room.61

Bute’s purchases of works of art were not just limited to paintings in oil on canvas. It is likely that a bound folio containing ‘89 old Pencil Sketches of celebrated Race-Horses’ (fig. 7) was purchased by the 4th Marquess.62 These preparatory drawings by James Seymour, bought from the collection of Sir John St Aubyn and dating from about 1744 to 1746, do not appear in the picture accounts but may be related to the four drawings by the same artist purchased by Bute in November 1936.63 Bute also purchased an intriguing bound manuscript, ‘Horse Races and Cock-Fighting at Newmarket between 1719 and 1757’ (fig. 8). A pencil note on the flyleaf gives an insight into potential reasons for the purchase: ‘This M.S. is unique in so far as it gives the colours of the riders – it cannot be found in any printed publication’. The manuscript had first been sold out of the library of Sir Thomas Thornhill of Riddlesworth in 1889 to Lord Rosebery for £7. Bute bought the manuscript for ‘£16–0–0 at the sale of Lord Roseberry’s library at the Durdans. Epsom. July. 1933. Sotheby. Lot 156’.64 ‘Horse Races’ provides an opportunity for mapping the evolving racing season at Newmarket and for analysing the changing personalities involved.


Figure 7.
James Seymour, Sketchbook, Mount Stuart Archive.

Digital image courtesy of The Bute Collection at Mount Stuart / Photo: Keith Hunter. (All rights reserved)

Horse Races and Cock-Fighting at Newmarket between 1719 and 1757

Figure 8.
Horse Races and Cock-Fighting at Newmarket between 1719 and 1757, Mount Stuart Archive (BHD/14).

Digital image courtesy of The Bute Collection at Mount Stuart / Photo: Keith Hunter. (All rights reserved)

The reasons behind the 4th Marquess’s new collecting can be reconstructed through a series of documents related to a long-running attempt to explore a more tax-efficient ownership structure.65 As early as 1921, Bute’s Cardiff-based lawyers, W. L. Harris & Chambers, noted in a letter to Lord Glenconner’s lawyers that ‘if he [Bute] places all these pictures, prints, &c. in some establishment – say for instance one of his houses – and permits the public to have access thereto at stated days and times, they would on his death be freed from Estate Duty’.66 Drawing up a draft of the ‘Objects’ of a proposed Art Collection Trust in 1938, the 4th Marquess’s first rule was: ‘The Trust will not hang pictures of different schools or periods together indiscriminately, nor mix classical pictures with sporting ones’. Bute clearly saw his sporting collection as a discrete part of the wider family holdings but one which had the potential to be an encyclopaedic capsule that was representative of British sporting art from the late sixteenth to the late nineteenth century. A single page, in the 4th Marquess’s hand, splits sporting artists into thirty-two ‘Existing’ (for example, John Wootton, George Stubbs, James Seymour, George Morland) and twenty-four ‘To get’ (Sawrey Gilpin, James Pollard, Thomas Rowlandson, Philip Reinagle; fig. 9).67 An approximate date for this document is 1934 but this feels more illustrative rather than an exact account of his purchasing strategies.

Draft list of potential sporting art purchases, c.1934, ‘Existing and To get’

Figure 9.
Draft list of potential sporting art purchases, c.1934, ‘Existing and To get’, Mount Stuart Archive.

Digital image courtesy of The Bute Collection at Mount Stuart / Photo: Keith Hunter. (All rights reserved)

By the end of the 1950s, and with the death of the 4th Marquess in 1947 and of the 5th Marquess in 1956, the majority of the sporting pictures had been transferred to Mount Stuart and were split between the South Passage (12), Lilac Suite Lobby (7), Lilac Drawing Room (6), Lilac Bedroom (10), Garden Passage (11), Pink Bedroom (12) Lord Bute’s Office (5) and the Drawing Room (14). The 6th Marquess later placed seventeen paintings on loan to the Turf Club at 5 Carlton House Terrace, London, including J. N. Sartorious’s A Match on Beacon Course, Newmarket (fig. 10) from the Lilac Drawing Room and Wootton’s The Warren Hill, Newmarket (see fig. 1) from Lord Bute’s Office.68 The first summary catalogue of the sporting pictures was produced in 1968.69

A Match on Beacon Course

Figure 10.
J. N. Sartorious, A Match on Beacon Course, Newmarket. The Bute Collection at Mount Stuart.

Digital image courtesy of The Bute Collection at Mount Stuart / Photo: Keith Hunter. (All rights reserved)

A number of the sporting pictures were exhibited during the 6th Marquess’s lifetime, most significantly as part of the Arts Council of Great Britain’s touring exhibition British Sporting Painting 1650–1850 in 1974–75 (fig. 11).70 An annotated list compiled for government indemnity for the thirty-two works shown confirms that the majority of the sporting pictures were, by 1974, still clustered in the Lilac Suite and Billiard Room at Mount Stuart. The only exceptions were Seymour’s Coursing Scene and Henry Bernard Chalon’s The Warwickshire Beagles, on loan to the Turf Club, and Edmund Bristow’s Greyhounds and two pictures of fighting cocks which remained at 26 Queen Anne’s Gate.71 The show was curated by Sheridan Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 5th Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, whose correspondence with Lord Bute sheds light on the esteem in which the collection was viewed. By November 1973, ‘by dint of enormous and agonised soul searching’, Dufferin had produced ‘a list of my fifteen favourites which is by no means complete’.72 The two toured Mount Stuart and the Isle of Bute a month later, which made quite an impression on Dufferin:

I can think of no greater contrast than shortly after I left you when I crossed Check Point Charlie and found myself in East Berlin and Rothesay seemed like a dream. Having made the tour of the whole island with you I became an even more convinced supporter of enlightened despotism. To see such utter peace and quiet prosperity while maintaining unspoilt beauty was a revelation, and I appreciate it all the more in retrospect, surrounded as one is with the prevailing gloom and doom.73

British Sporting Painting 1650-1850

Figure 11.
British Sporting Painting 1650-1850, Arts Council of Great Britain, 1974 (cover image).

Digital image courtesy of The Arts Council of Great Britain. (All rights reserved)

It also lengthened his list, as he confessed to Bute in the same letter:

What I have in fact done, therefore, is to write down everything I would like in order of preference under their various headings. All I can say in mitigation is that I have not asked for the Stubbs and you can exercise your red pencil totally throughout the list according to what you are prepared to lend or not for whatever reason . . .74

At the end of January 1974, Bute confirmed the loan of all the paintings on the list and ‘if you are desperate for it, the Stubbs as well’.75 This was a coup for Dufferin, who ‘was so happy when I got your letter that I actually forgot the miners’ strike for nearly twenty minutes!’76 Norbert Lynton, Director of Exhibitions for the Arts Council, expressed his satisfaction in a more bureaucratic tone: ‘The paintings that Sheridan Dufferin has recommended to us, out of your collection, would make a most valuable contribution. We have little doubt that this exhibition will prove of interest to a large public as well as specialists.’77


This study demonstrates the range and reach of two distinct areas of the Mount Stuart archives on the Isle of Bute. Through an exploration of the theme of sporting life and sporting art, the archive not only reveals the significance of equine culture in polite self-fashioning and political activity in the mid-eighteenth century for the 3rd Earl of Bute, but also provides insights into the dynamics of the international art market in the first half of the twentieth century. The 4th Marquess’s collection of sporting art, created in the 1930s and largely dispersed through the 1999 Christie’s sale, showcases the Butes’ purchasing power (at a time when most aristocratic families were shedding art works and heirlooms) and also emphasises the role played by trusted dealers and advisers in creating over a relatively short period a representative and high-quality collection.


  • Dr Oliver Cox is Heritage Engagement Fellow at the University of Oxford and Co-Lead of the Oxford University Heritage Network. He leads a team that develops mutually beneficial research partnerships with the UK and international arts and heritage sectors.

    His research interests include the social, cultural and political position of the British country house from the eighteenth century to the present day. He is particularly interested in broadening the range of academic disciplines and approaches that use the country house both as a source of archival material and as a site for knowledge exchange and public history.


  1. The Bute Collection of Sporting Pictures, London: Christie’s, 1999, p. 8.

  2. There is no single biography of the 3rd Earl of Bute that connects his roles in politics, botany and collecting. For politics see Karl W. Schzweizer, ed., Lord Bute: Essays in Re-Interpretation, Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1988; John L. Bullion, ‘The Prince’s Mentor: A New Perspective on the Friendship between George III and Lord Bute during the 1750s’, Albion, vol. 21, no. 1, 1989, pp. 34–55; John L. Bullion, ‘The Origins and Significance of Gossip about Princess Augusta and Lord Bute, 1755–56’, Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, vol. 21, 1991, pp. 245–65; Sheila O’Connell and Rosemary Baker, ‘Satirical Prints by Jefferyes Hamett O’Neale’, Print Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 3, 2011, pp. 338–43; Karl W. Schzweizer, ‘John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute: Image and Counter Image in Hanoverian Studies’, International Review of Scottish Studies, vol. 39, 2014, pp. 81–106. For botany see Maureen Lazarus and Heather Pardoe, ‘Bute’s Botanical Tables: Dictated by Nature’, Archives of Natural History, vol. 36, no. 2, 2009, pp. 277–98; Charlotte Phillips and Nora Shane, eds, John Stuart 3rd Earl of Bute 1713–1792: Botanical and Horticultural Interests and Legacy, Luton: Luton Hoo Estate, 2014. For collecting see Francis Russell, John, 3rd Earl of Bute: Patron and Collector, London: Merrion Press, 2004; Caitlin Blackwell, Peter Black and Oliver Cox, Art of Power: Masterpieces from the Bute Collection, exh. cat., Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow, and Mount Stuart, London: Prestell, 2017.

  3. Letter from Lord Bute to Thomas Worsley, 12 January 1744, Hovingham Hall MS 13/3/5, quoted in Russell, 2004, p. 15.

  4. Thomas Worsley has not been the subject of a full-length biography but features prominently in the scholarship of his descendant Giles Worsley: see, for example, The British Stable, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004.

  5. Karen Raber and Treva J. Tucker, eds, The Culture of the Horse: Status, Discipline and Identity in the Early Modern World, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, p. 9.

  6. Lucy Worsley, Cavalier: A Tale of Chivalry, Passion and Great Houses, London: Faber, 2007, passim.

  7. Lucy Worsley and Tom Addyman, ‘Riding Houses and Horses: William Cavendish’s Architecture for the Art of Horsemanship’, Architectural History, vol. 45, 2002, pp. 194–229.

  8. Elspeth Graham, ‘The Duke of Newcastle’s “Love (. . .) for good horses”: An Exploration of Meanings’, in Peter Edward, Karl Enenkel and Elspeth Graham, eds, The Horse as Cultural Icon: The Real and Symbolic Horse in the Early Modern World, Leiden: Brill, 2012, p. 38; see also Giles Worsley, ‘A Courtly Art: The History of haute école in England’, Court Historian, vol. 6, no. 1, 2001, pp. 29–47.

  9. Monica Mattfeld, Becoming Centaur: Eighteenth-Century Masculinity and English Horsemanship, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2017, p. 22.

  10. Donna Landry, Noble Brutes: How Eastern Horses transformed English Culture, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008, p. 4.

  11. Nathaniel William Wraxall, Historical Memoirs of My Own Time: Part the First, from 1772 to 1780; Part the Second, from 1781 to 1784, 2nd edn, 2 vols, London: Thomas Cadell and William Davies, 1815, vol. 1, pp. 431–2.

  12. Charles Jenkinson quoted in Russell, 2004, p. 20.

  13. Oliver Cox, ‘Creating a King: The 3rd Earl of Bute and King George III’, in Blackwell, Black and Cox, 2017, pp. 38–55.

  14. John Screen, ‘Herbert, Henry, tenth earl of Pembroke and seventh earl of Montgomery’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessed 1 July 2018).

  15. Letter from Lord Pembroke to Lord Bute, 9 February 1757, Mount Stuart archive, BU/98/2, 10.

  16. See ibid., 31 July and 5 August 1757, BU/98/2, 107 and 110.

  17. Letter from Pembroke to Bute, 25 January 1758, BU/98/3, 11. Domenico Angelo Malevolti Tremamondo, more commonly known as Domenico Angelo, was one of the most famous riding masters of the eighteenth century; in London he taught in a riding house behind Carlisle House in Soho Square: Mattfeld, 2017, pp. 82–9.

  18. Letter from Lord Eglinton to Lord Bute, 25 June 1757, BU/98/2, 89.

  19. Thomas Henderson, rev. Stuart Handley, ‘Home, William, eighth earl of Home (d. 1761), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 2004, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/13649 (accessed 6 May 2018).

  20. Letter from Lord Home to Lord Bute, 20 June 1758, BU/98/3, 98.

  21. Ibid., 25 June 1758, BU/98/3, 70.

  22. See letter from Walter Pringle to Lord Bute, 28 May 1760, BU/98/5, 114.

  23. Seven nutmeg trees had been procured by the Royal Society of which Bute was given two: letter from William Watson to Lord Bute, 18 December 1760, BU/98/5, 196.

  24. Letter from Thomas Worsley to Lord Bute, n.d. [1758], BU/98/3, 216.

  25. Ibid., 17 February 1758 and 28 November 1760, BU/98/3, 23 and BU/98/5, 106, respectively.

  26. Horace Walpole, Memoirs of the Reign of King George the Third, ed. Denis Le Marchant, 4 vols, London: Richard Bentley, 1845, vol. 1, p. 417.

  27. See (accessed 22 April 2018).

  28. Richard Wilson and Alan Mackley, Creating Paradise: The Building of the English Country House, 2nd edn, London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007, p. 339.

  29. David Watkin, The Architect King: George III and the Culture of the Enlightenment, London: Royal Collection, 2004, pp. 56–9.

  30. Thomas Robinson quoted in Giles Worsley, ‘Hovingham Hall, Yorkshire – I: The Seat of Sir Marcus Worsley’, Country Life, vol. 188, no. 37, 1994, p. 92; see also Worsley, ‘Hovingham Hall, Yorkshire – II: The Seat of Sir Marcus Worsley’, ibid., no. 38, 1994, pp. 56–61; Worsley 2007, pp. 337–40.

  31. Russell, 2004, 179.

  32. Giles Worsley, ‘Riding on Royal Approval’, Country Life, vol. 188, no. 18, 1994, p. 57.

  33. John Board, ‘Haute École in Pictures’, Country Life Annual, 1952, pp. 119–23.

  34. James Boswell, 18 July 1763, London Journal, 1762–1763, ed. Gordon Turnbull, London: Penguin, 2010.

  35. Robin Blake, George Stubbs and the Wide Creation: Animals, People and Places in the Life of George Stubbs, 1724–1806, London: Chatto and Windus, 2005, pp. 150–2; Judy Egerton, George Stubbs, Painter: Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007, pp. 175–6, 292; see also Douglas Fordham, ‘George Stubbs’s Zoon Politikon’, Oxford Art Journal, vol. 33, no. 1, 2010, pp. 3–23.

  36. ‘Catalogue of Bute Picture Collection, First Compiled 1968: amended and added to thereafter’, vol. 4: ‘Sporting Pictures’, 1968, Mount Stuart archive.

  37. ‘Mr Francis Harvey’, The Athenaeum, 17 February 1900, p. 209. His Rowlandson prints form the basis of the collection in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, acquired in 1959.

  38. ‘Francis Harvey, 4 St James Street’, The Athenaeum, 17 March 1900, p. 321.

  39. See (accessed 30 June 2018).

  40. John Higgitt, The Murthly Hours: Devotion, Literacy and Luxury in Paris, England and the Gaelic West, London: British Library, 2000, pp. 38–9.

  41. ‘Charter of David II, King of Scots’, Mount Stuart archive, SHM/1/2.

  42. ‘Old Engravings. Sporting Pictures’, advertisement, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, vol. 56, no. 327, 1930, p. xviii.

  43. Francis Harvey, ‘Valuation List by Francis Harvey 1930’, flyleaf.

  44. Egerton, 2007, no. 99, p. 275.

  45. ‘Picture Accounts 1910–1944 (List I)’, p. 6, Mount Stuart archive.

  46. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, CA, M. Knoedler & Co. Painting Stock Book (New York) 8: A1-A2680, p. 95; see also M. Knoedler & Co. Painting Stock Book (London) 5: A1-A2005, p. 25.

  47. Egerton, 2007, no. 275, p. 358.

  48. Holbein’s Edward VI was sold at Christie’s, London, Works of Art from the Bute Collection, 3 July 1996 (116).

  49. ‘Picture Accounts 1910–1944 (List I)’, p. 6.

  50. Marshall’s Grimalkin was sold at Christie’s, London, Bute Collection of Sporting Pictures, 27 May 1999 (30).

  51. ‘Picture Accounts 1910–1944 (List I)’, p. 7. Wootton’s Leeds was sold at Christie’s, Bute Collection of Sporting Pictures, 27 May 1999 (5).

  52. Henry Alken, 4 hunting scenes (Cardiff Castle); Samuel Alken, 3 Coursing scenes (Cardiff Castle); Lord Windsor’s Mastiff (Cardiff Castle); Francis Barlow, Peacock & Birds (two groups; Mount Stuart); George Morland, The Country Cottage (Cardiff Castle); J. E. Ferneley, The Favourite Hunters of Lord Whitworth (Cardiff Castle); Ben Marshall, Grimalkin (39 Belgrave Square); Thomas Spencer, Victorious (39 Belgrave Square); George Stubbs, Huntsmen Setting Out (Cardiff Castle); Dean Wolstenholme, The Finish (39 Belgrave Square); John Wootton, Leeds (26 Queen Anne’s Gate).

  53. Wolstenholme’s The Finish and Spencer’s Victorious were purchased from Harvey, the former for £2600 in February 1930 from the collection of Sir Randolph Barker of Ranston, Dorset; the latter for £200 in March 1930 with the provenance not recorded: ‘Picture Accounts 1910–1944 (List I)’, p. 9.

  54. Letter from Mary Power to Commander Averkieff, 19 October 1932, 4th Marquess Papers, Box 10, red/pink folder labelled ‘Commander Averkieff’, Mount Stuart archive.

  55. Letter from William J. Stanley to Mrs Violet Stuart Wortley, 12 May 1928, yellow folder labelled ‘Acquisitions from Highcliffe/3rd Earl’s papers’, ibid.

  56. ‘Notes and Documents at Highcliffe Castle, Christchurch, Hants’, ibid.

  57. Letter from W. J. Stanley to 4th Marquess, 2 November 1927, ibid.

  58. The College Governors of Dulwich Picture Gallery, for example, commissioned Ayoub to produce a copy of Reynolds’s Mrs Margaret Desenfans (1757) while the picture was for sale through Agnew’s: John Ingamells, Dulwich Picture Gallery: British, London: Unicorn Press, 2008, pp. 218, 263.

  59. ‘Sporting Pictures from 39 Belgrave Square to Cardiff’ [1938], Mount Stuart archive.

  60. ‘Complete List of Sporting Pictures in Stables and in Cardiff Castle, Cardiff’ [c.1938–40], ibid.

  61. Ibid., pp. 1, 2–3.

  62. James Seymour Sketchbook, Mount Stuart archive.

  63. ‘Picture Accounts 1910–1944 (List I)’, p. 21.

  64. Ibid., annotation on flyleaf.

  65. 4th Marquess Papers, Box 4, green folder labelled ‘Marquis of Bute, His plans to build a gallery in or near Cardiff to house his Works of Art, 1931–1936’.

  66. Letter from W. L. Harris to Messrs Emmet & Co., 31 October 1921, ibid.

  67. Draft note ‘Sporting’, Mount Stuart archive. Duplicates include William Barraud, John Boultbee, Henry Bernard Chalon (listed twice under ‘To get’), Charles Hancock, Francis Sartorius, James Seymour, Peter Tillemans, Francis Turner and James Pollard, ‘Pictures – Sporting: Old Lists, etc.’.

  68. See letter from Marquess of Huntington to Marquess of Bute, 13 February 1978, ibid.

  69. ‘Sporting Pictures’, 1968, ibid.

  70. British Sporting Painting 1650–1850, Hayward Gallery, London, 13 December 1974–23 February 1975; Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, 8 March–6 April 1975; Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 25 April–25 May 1975.

  71. The Arts Council of Great Britain Terms of Indemnity, 14 October 1974, ‘Pictures – Sporting: Old Lists, etc.’.

  72. Letter from Lord Dufferin to Lord Bute, 7 November 1973, ibid.

  73. Letter from Dufferin to Bute, 18 December 1973, ibid.

  74. Ibid.

  75. Letter from Lord Bute to Lord Dufferin, 31 January 1974, ibid.

  76. Letter from Dufferin to Bute, 4 February 1974, ibid.

  77. Letter from Norbert Lynton, Arts Council, to Lord Bute, 2 May 1974, ibid.



by Oliver Cox
20 November 2020
House Essay
CC BY-NC International 4.0
Cite as
Oliver Cox, "Sporting Art and Sporting Life: Art and Archives at Mount Stuart", Art and the Country House,