The Bowes Museum > Exhibitions > 2010 > British Sporting Art

British Sporting Art


British Sporting Art explored the genre of Sporting Art in Britain, from horseracing and hunting to boxing, football and cricket. Central to the theme of the exhibition, which included works by George Stubbs, Sir Alfred Munnings and George Morland, was John Bowes, the founder of the Museum and the first man to lift the renowned Triple Crown. Inspired by Bowes’ love for horseracing and its importance to the story behind The Bowes Museum, this exhibition explored his prolific racing career and the wider genre of Sporting Art.

The branch of painting which has come to be known as British Sporting Art was at its height during the 18th Century, when horseracing fervour swept the nation. It was a golden age for sporting artists, the most famous of which was Stubbs, with an urge to immortalise winners on canvas. Despite it being rejected by connoisseurs as a low form of art, and by Sir Joshua Reynolds as genre painting, Stubbs was a significant presence at the Royal Academy annual exhibitions, to huge critical acclaim.

Featured in the display was the Museum’s painting, Cotherstone, by J F Herring Jnr, and John Ferneley’s Beeswing. The former was bought at auction from Christie’s in New York in 2006, Cotherstone being one of Bowes’ most successful racehorses, while the latter is on long term loan to the Museum. Beeswing won 51 from 64 races, becoming quite a celebrity, with several public houses named after her.

Artists such as Gillray, whose work also featured in the exhibition, were quite different from those depicting field sports. They produced detailed portraits of boxers and comical sporting scenes, which were reproduced in popular print form.

The exhibition considered whether this in itself is a statement about the class system in the 18th Century, particularly as the print industry became prominent. It also considered the next generation of painters – Herring Snr & Jnr and Henry Alken, who faced less prejudice than their predecessors, and will conclude with more recent sporting paintings by Munnings, whose hunting scenes are instantly recognisable. Lifelike bronzes of racehorses, deer and gundogs, by sculptor Sally Arnup, will enhance the sporting art.

The Bowes Museum grounds are open!


Due to the government announcement on Thursday 17 December, that County Durham is to remain in COVID tier 3 restrictions, The Bowes Museum unfortunately will remain closed to all visitors. However, the grounds remain open to visitors from 10.00 - 4.00 daily, and we are currently hosting a woodland fairy trail, two spring trails and outdoor guided tours are available from 29 March 2021.

As we have already been shut for a number of weeks and there is much uncertainty around possible further restrictions, we have decided to use this period to undertake some work in Café Bowes, alongside performing some much-needed structural repairs to the building, notably to the windows. January and February are usually quieter times for the Museum, often due to severe weather, so we believe that this is the best time to carry out such works with the least amount of disruption to our visitors.

We have therefore decided to remain closed for a period of four weeks following any near-future tier 2 announcement from the government, as this will allow us time to deep clean the Museum prior to reopening our doors once again. We will, of course, keep you updated as the guidelines change.

Your ongoing support during these unprecedented times is hugely appreciated and we very much look forward to welcoming you back into the building as early as possible in 2021.

We hope to be able to offer a few COVID-safe outdoor events over the coming months, about which we shall make further announcements as soon as possible.