Sporting Prints Once a Hot Collectible

By Anne Gilbert


   During the 1920s and thirties English sporting prints were a status symbol and cost several hundred dollars. If you had the original oil prices were in the thousands. Hundreds of prints and restrikes were made, These days they are still being made and prices can range from $20 to $100 depending on the quality and the subject.
   It all began in England during the 18th and 19th centuries when portraits of the family horse or dog were considered almost as important as an ancestral portrait. This evolved into sporting art not only of racing but fox hunting and more violent sports. Among them cock fighting, dog fighting, bull-baiting and bare-knuckle fighting. Both the English and the French portrayed them in oils and water colors. By the 19th century they were reproduced as prints. The English gentry and squires began collecting the hunting and racing prints.
   The art form crossed to America in the early 20th century with famous American race horses and their jockeys as popular subjects. By the 1940s they were out of fashion, until the 1970s when Ralph Lauren brought back the country look in furnishings and fashion. By the 1980s they were out of fashion once again.    Racing prints by the most popular English artists such as Henry Alken, Sir Alfred J. Munnings and George Stubbs are more expensive than hunting subjects by the same artists.
   CLUES: Early prints were hand-painted. However, the 1970’s restrikes were done with improved technical methods and can be difficult to detect. However their borders are too white, unless artificially aged. Sizes will be different than the originals.
   A large folio of Henry Alken’s works, published in1821, in the “National Sports of Great Britain” contained fifty large color plates engraved by T. Clarke, “after Alken.” It was from this folio that hundreds of re-strikes were made, flooding the market in the 1920s.
   If you can still find it , “Old Sporting Art,” a book originally published in 1908 by Ralph Nevill was reprinted in 1970. It details the rise in popularity and auction prices in 1908, and correct sizes.
   PHOTO: 1908 Print by Henry Alken. “The First Over.” PHOTO CREDIT:

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