Pursuits

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Pursuits

In this blog series, our curators, archivists, conservators and learning team will be bringing together works of art from across the Collection under one theme. From armour and jewellery, to portraits and porcelain, read about some of the most fascinating and marvellous pieces in the Collection here.

Explore the theme of Pursuits, from Turner's atmospheric grouse shooting watercolour to Anton Peffenhauser's spectacular armour for the 'Joust of Peace', in this week's blog.

Turner, Grouse Shooting on Beamsley Beacon, probably late 1816

This watercolour was commissioned by Sir William Pilkington (1755 - 1850) of Chevet Hall near Wakefield. Turner met Pilkington through his closest friend, patron, and supporter William Fawkes, Pilkington’s brother-in-law. Turner spent long holidays with Fawkes and his family at Farnley Hall, Otley, near Leeds. It was at Farnley that Turner painted this watercolour, along with three others at the Wallace Collection that form part of this series.

Here, Turner depicts with great precision the rough texture of rock and vegetation of ferns, bracken, and heather, in the foreground, contrasted with the smooth atmospheric washes of the horizon and sky. The scene has been identified as a shooting party on Beamsley Beacon attended by Turner, who you can see holding his gun walking towards the pond, Walter Fawkes, depicted on his horse in the centre, and his brother, Richard Fawkes. They are engaged in the autumnal activity of grouse shooting, an extremely fashionable pursuit amongst the wealthy.

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Jean-Joseph Barrière, Knotting shuttle (navette), 1772–3

A fashionable past-time for eighteenth-century aristocratic ladies was knotting. This consisted of knotting thread at close intervals so as to make a narrow trimming that could then be attached to another fabric, to create patterns. The implement used to wind the thread was called a shuttle, and these fashionable accessories were frequently highly decorated items used to draw attention to a lady’s elegant hands. This exquisitely decorated shuttle combines varicoloured gold in tones of yellow, red and green with enamel miniature scenes. These are in the manner of Boucher, although no direct source has been found. The motifs allude to love and courtship.

Madame Adélaïde, Louis XV’s daughter, chose to be portrayed by Nattier while knotting, an opportunity to immortalise her refined and graceful arms.

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Medal cabinet attributed to André-Charles Boulle, c.1710–20

Collecting medals had been a past-time of the elite since Roman times and was revived in the Renaissance. In addition to Ancient medals, new medallic histories were produced in Europe and Louis XIV was particularly keen to commemorate his reign through medals that glorified his military victories and other significant events.

Collectors sought to build up complete sets and stored them in specially-designed cabinets that allowed them to display their erudition to their friends. These cabinets became desirable objects in their own right, sometimes taking the form of large cupboard-like pieces of furniture or sometimes much smaller, like this one. Attributed to the celebrated André-Charles Boulle, it is decorated with turtleshell and brass and was designed to stand on a writing desk. It opens to reveal twelve velvet-lined drawers, each marked with a Roman numeral for classifying the collection.

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Léon Gérôme, The Draught Players, 1859

Two Arnauts — Albanian soldiers in the service of Mohammed Ali in Egypt — sit on a coop of poultry, concentrating on a game of draughts. They are absorbed in the game, crouching over it while smoking and twisting their moustaches, and seemingly unaware of the spectator looking over their shoulder, sipping on a cup of coffee. They are in a cavernous interior, where fellow Arnauts rest.

Gérôme often returned to this subject or variants of it, depicting the soldiers at rest. These subjects offered the perfect opportunity to portray the Arnauts’ costumes in detail. Their pleated skirts, embroidered jackets, and silk headpieces are meticulously depicted, in an almost photographic manner, demonstrating Gérôme’s skill at capturing the different textures and details of their costumes.

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Anton Peffenhauser, Armour for the Joust of Peace, Augsburg, Germany, c. 1590

Jousting was an essential part of aristocratic life during the Renaissance. As well as showing off knightly fighting prowess, jousts also demonstrated literary awareness and visual imagination, through the use of elaborate mythic or allegorical themes and costumes. Wealthy jousters often commissioned richly decorated armour for important events.

This rough sport involved two fully-armoured horsemen charging each other with lances, aiming to strike the opponent with as much strength and accuracy as possible. The Wallace Collection includes three complete armours for the late sixteenth-century German ‘joust of peace’, a contest employing special safety features not present on battlefield equipment. These included a heavy close-helmet, the front of which was extended down onto the chest where it was bolted firmly in place, to prevent neck injury in the collision. Meanwhile, the left shoulder (the other primary target after the head) was covered with a steel shield moulded to the body and also bolted down.

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Tournament shield, Iran, 1848

Images of the royal hunt have a long history in Iranian art, going back thousands of years to the carved stone reliefs at Persepolis. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the hunting scene had become a vehicle for the Iranian monarch Fath-‘Ali Shah Qajar to display his martial prowess and —through the participation of his many sons— his virility. The painting on this fine buffalo hide shield fits into that tradition. More than that, it is a unique example of a North Indian shield with Iranian-style painting executed either in Iran itself or in one of the centres of Iranian culture on the Indian subcontinent, such as Mumbai.

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