Hunting art is enjoying a steady rise in popularity, believed by some to have been sparked by the political threat to the sport.

Sarah Lewis, who is in charge of pictures at the Oxford branch of Bonhams Auctioneers, says: “We’ve found that the possible demise of foxhunting has increased the market for hunting-related paintings. Enquiries and prices have gone up by 20-30% in the past couple of years.

“It’s not dramatic, but considering that the market in a lot of other areas of art is not going up — for instance, rural views have tailed off recently — it’s significant.

“The interest is mostly from country people — trying to keep a bit of heritage. Late 19th and early 20th century scenes are very popular, especially slightly fun, almost cartoon-like images.”

Typical of the type of picture that is in demand is The Foxhunter’s Dream after seeing a pantomime and a kidney supper with friends (right), monogrammed by an unknown artist, and dated 1858, which goes under the hammer on 7 September in Oxford.

“This is very early for a painting of this type and it could fetch up to £5,000. There is a specific market for earlier hunting scenes, but that’s more London-based,” adds Sarah.

James Mackie, Bonhams’ sporting oil paintings specialist, confirms: “We’re seeing an increased interest in country pursuits across the board. Hunting is a subject that’s enduringly popular, but some recent sales have gone very well. For instance, we sold a set of four hunting scenes by the Shayer brothers for £35,000.

“It is a reflection of wanting to protect a way of life. If something feels like it’s being lost, people want to have a record of it — although it’s hard to know what motivates our buyers.”

Veronique Scorer, painting specialist at Sotheby’s, says: “You can still get very good prices for hunting art, as long as the painting is in good original condition, hasn’t been over-restored and is fresh to the market. We’re not seeing huge leaps in price, but steady progress.”

Veronique cites hound pictures by John Emms and historical “post-hunting” interiors by Heywood Hardy as particularly popular. Sporting scenes by Sir Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) remain in demand — one of his hunting watercolours recently sold for £145,000.
However, Veronique adds buyers are keener on scenes where the fox “looks like it will get away” rather than being accounted for.

  • This article first appeared in H&H (2 September 2004)


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