|European Paintings — George Armfield - Terriers Rabbiting|
|George Armfield - Terriers Rabbiting
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 28 x 36 inches
Signed lower center: Geo. Armfield
The genre of animal painting reached its height in Britain, during the nineteenth century, under the reign of Queen Victoria. The monarch and her family were enthusiastic proponents of the country life and during the years of mourning after the death of Prince Albert, Victoria often retreated to Balmoral Castle, located at the heart of the Scottish Highland Mountains. The Prince of Wales, later to become Edward VII, had a passion for country sports while his mother adored the company and companionship of her domestic animals. Painters such as Edwin Landseer, who specialized in such subject matter, found willing patronage from the royal family and the genre became popular amongst the wider public.
George Armfield is one of the most celebrated of nineteenth-century British animal painters. He is best known for his paintings of dogs and achieved great success for his ability to render his subject matter realistically and with three-dimensionality. He was born in Wales and received his artistic training from his father, the portrait painter William Armfield Hobday. By the age of sixteen he was selling his paintings as a professional artist and seems to have enjoyed a steady stream of commissions from a succession of wealthy patrons from the outset of his career.
The painter was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy between 1836 and 1875 and also contributed to the exhibitions at the British Institution. His popularity was such that from 1840 his works frequently appeared, in engraved form, in the Sporting Magazine.
His ability to capture the character and movement of animals was no doubt due to his own fondness of them and also his participation in country sports. He owned a menagerie of animals himself and actively participated in shooting, hunting and racing exploits. Dr. R. W. Leftwich was to comment: "Armfield was not only a painter of animals, but he could make them do anything. One of the finest riders I ever knew, I remember seeing him make his horse jump over a large bonfire. On one occasion he rode up Regent Street on an apparently lame horse, amid the jeers of the bus drivers, right in front of the Horse Guards; but when the band struck up he made the horse dance to the music, and an officer rode up to him and offered any money he liked to ask for the horse."
While George Armfield experienced great success during the majority of his lifetime, earning as much as one thousand pounds per year, his later years were dogged by ill health. From about 1870 his sight began to fail and an operation upon one of his eyes, in 1872, was only partially successful. His ability to paint was severely curtailed and in 1893 a pension of 20 pounds per annum was granted by the Royal Academy. Sadly, he died before being able to make use of it.
In this captivating oil, Armfield's skill in representation is beautifully displayed. He skillfully captures the rapt attention of the two terriers and their spaniel companion as they eagerly wait for the rabbit to appear from its hole. With broad paint strokes and loose handling of the brush, the painter effectively represents the different textures of fur, grasses and sky. It is an excellent example of Armfield's work and readily explains why his paintings are often mistaken for those of the great Edwin Landseer.