The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

August 6, 2013

August 6, 1820

Henry Bernard Chalon (1770 to 1849) was a famous animal painter in England. His family, father and brothers were all artists. At that time in history the phrase 'animal painter' connoted a regard that is lacking today. Certainly part of the reason for this is that the basis of aristocratic wealth at the time consisted of land and things you do with land. And before photography, painting was a means of documenting one's wealth and status. Maybe your historic jewels can be put in a trunk, and be there when you reopen it later. But if your wealth includes cattle, horses, and hunting dogs, then you cannot be certain you will be able to open the barn and show off your treasures. And the pictures help make the status your wealth presumes, something that can be inherited. So an animal painter was necessary to help support a land owning aristocracy. In fact, the position of "animal painter" to various royal personages was an established post.

The first post to a member of the royal family that Henry Chalon enjoyed was as the animal painter to HRH the Duchess of York (Friederike Charlotte Ulrike Katharina; (her dates are May 7, 1767 to August 6, 1820). That occurred in 1795.  This was a great honor and good for business. The favor continued, for a book of Chalon's was dedicated to Fredericka.

Direct evidence of the artist's careful study of the Horse may be found in a book entitled "Studies from Nature," which was dedicated with permission to his patroness the Duchess of York, and published 1st May, 1804, by H. B. Chalon and J. C. Nattes. This contains twenty plates, each 14 inches by 11 inches; seventeen represent dogs and birds, and the remaining three are Anatomical Tables, viz.: (1) The Horse's Skeleton on a New System; (2) Explanation of the Anatomical Table of the Horse's Muscles; and (3) The Proportions of an Arabian on quite a new System.

Nor was this royal favor evidence of what historians's call Fredericka's eccentricity.
Henry Bernard Chalon would later become the official animal painter for King George IV, and William IV. Chalon was good at painting dogs and horses.

The book, Animal Painters of England from the Year 1650: A Brief History of Their Lives and Works, Volume 1, by Sir Walter Gilbey, and F. Babbage (1900) is the source of most of our information. This book lists many of Chalon's paintings.

Their citations include a lot of commercial detail, as in

Chalon's portrait of Brainworm, a race-horse, was engraved by J. C. Easling; ...the print was published by R. Ackermann. His portraits of the race-horses Morelli and Vandyke, were engraved by William Say as companion pictures, .... The portraits of the Prince of Wales' horses, Orville and Sir David, exhibited in the Royal Academy of 1808, were engraved by William Ward,....

But it was not all horses, and dogs. Here is a sample, of his birds.

And there are 
also cats he painted. The article on Chalon in the source  we cite above  lists, all of Chalon's paintings which were shown at the Royal Academy. There were 193 of them. Among the paintings we find:

NORWEGIAN RABBIT, CAT, AND TWO TERRIERS, property of Henry Ellison, Esq., of Beverley, Yorkshire. 

and in 1832 Henry Bernard Chalon exhibited 5 paintings at the Royal Academy show and these include:

1832—(5) HUNTER AND SPANIEL—SPOT, Italian greyhound, property of Duke of Devonshire—TWO CATS, a white Persian and a Siberian—FANG, a hunter, property of Marquis of Sligo, ....

So we learn the Marquis of Sligo paid Chalon to paint two cats, a white Perisan and a Siberian. Not sure what the Siberian looked like, but I doubt it was a tiger. I suspect a breed of cat we call by a different name now.  And
Henry Ellison, Esq. also paid to have a cat painted, though as part of a group of animals. In view of the rarity of cats as subjects for animal painters, at the time, I wonder if we can assume love for the cats was the motive.

The citations above give a good sense of what writing art history was like during the 19th century and before E. H. Gombrich demonstrated a fuller, more graceful and illuminating investigation, of what art history could be.

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