Posts Tagged ‘George Stubbs’

the grosvenor hunt

This is probably George Stubbs’s most famous painting.

It is an old-fashioned English deer hunt with hounds, a sport that was largely replaced with mounted fox hunts.

This painting also goes a long way to describing what often happened at rural West Virginia foxhounds trials that my grandfather attended. It was not unusual for a large section of the dogs released to take off after a deer and kill it, while their sucker counterparts took off after a red fox that they’d never catch.

This painting done at the Grosvenor family estate called Eaton in Cheshire. The Grosvenors became one of the largest landowning families in England, and their current descendant, the 6th Duke of Westminster, is the richest British-born person.

Hunting in deer parks in the eighteenth century was a rich man’s game, but this was also the heyday of the poacher.  These wealthy landowners didn’t spend all their time on one estate, and they simply couldn’t police it all. The rural poor, whose families had often been driven off the land, poached deer for their own tables, and those with a more entrepreneurial bend would sell the venison to butchers. Indeed, at this time, there was as strong connection between butchers and poachers, who were essentially thriving in a black market economy.

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This dog is supposed to be an elkhound.

George Stubbs elkhound

The dog is a sable spitz, though it is not gray or “wolf sable.”

And its coat is long and feathered, unlike any of the three (or four) breeds of modern Swedish and Norwegian elkhounds.

I wonder if this is the same elkhound that Stubbs painted that belonged to the prince of Wales in 1782.

One could be forgiven for calling this dog a wolfsspitz or Keeshond, and it was well-known that the Prince of Wales at the time, who became George IV, was a lover of spitz-type dogs. The House of Hanover to which he belonged was very German, and he would have had easy access to the various German spitzes, including the dogs that English-speakers always called Pomeranians.

I cannot find the exact story on this particular dog. If it had been an elkhound, surely someone would have mentioned it coming from Scandinavia.

If it is a Scandinavian dog whose ancestors were used to bay up moose, then this clearly shows that our concept of elkhound and herding spitz as distinct identities is clearly a very recent one. Most of the herding spitzes that are used on reindeer are long-coated dogs, while the elkhounds are technically smooth coated dogs with lots of undercoat.

If this dog were indeed an elkhound, then there isn’t really a long history of separation between hunting spitz and herding spitz.

They likely come out of the same generalist landrace, just as the Russian laikas do.

It could also explain why my grandfathers last Norwegian elkhound loved to herd horses as much as he loved to tree squirrels.


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Painting by George Stubbs (circa 1800).

The dog appears to be a lurcher or a specially bred “deer greyhound”– greyhound crossed with something big and heavy.

I think the doe is a fallow deer.

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The Sussex spaniels is one of the older breeds of spaniel. The modern dog has short-legs and a long back, although it did not always have those characteristics. In fact, look at this depiction of the breed by George Stubbs:

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The dog at the horse’s feet is listed as “Springer spaniel,” which did come in wider array of colors than the modern breed.

However, the Sussex dog to the right looks like a much larger spaniel than what we call a Sussex spaniel today. It is rapidly become a Museum piece dog, along with the Clumber spaniel, the other heavily set spaniel.

Today’s dog looks like Tootsie Roll, and it is almost extinct. No one wants a short-legged spaniel, even if it can charge through the cover a little better.

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Compare some of the Spanish Water dogs with the picture of Stubbs’s “A Water Spaniel” in the earlier entry.

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