Best Equestrian Artists: John Frederick Herring Snr (1795 – 1865)

Herring had little or no formal training in art; he had none of the advantages of heredity, money or society connections but talent, perseverance, acute observation and the support of his patrons led to his eventual rise to the position of official ‘Animal Painter’ to HRH Duchess of Kent.  He achieved this in a time when the Royal Academy under Sir Joshua Reynolds disdained sporting and horse painters.

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Racing and Hunting

In the early 1800s the world of sporting art was very competitive with painters such as Marshall, Reinagle, Ward, Garrard and Bristow trying to step into the place vacated by Stubbs’ death in 1806.  However, the upsurge of interest in the breeding and improvement of cattle and horses gave Herring the opportunity to paint the finest race horses from 1815 – 1850. 

He had an acute eye for proportion and conformation of the horse.  He painted horses in their stables and then would fit a landscape around them.  Occasionally he tried to vary the stereotypical side view of a horse but his attempts were not well received. 

He also painted hunting scenes, coaching scenes, horse fairs, stables, inn yards, farmyards, cattle, dogs, fowl, pigs and donkeys.

He sometimes painted horses at the start of a race to avoid the problems of portraying the gallop.

Scottish Landscapes and Sentiment

Herring’s Scottish landscapes have a misty atmosphere and style which is missing from his horse pictures where a desire and necessity to show every feature in minute detail detracts from the overall effect.  However, under the influence of Sir Edwin Landseer, Herring’s subject matter widened, and his brushwork became more adept.  He frequently collaborated with Landseer, Pollard, Bright and Rolfe. 

A Family Business

His three sons also painted, and Herring would let them finish pictures which he had started in a procedure similar to Renaissance workshops. 


Herring was very fond of horses and all animals and his aged white Arab horse, Imaum, featured in countless paintings.  Herring’s main fault is considered to be sentimentality; he had a passion for painting rabbits munching lettuce leaves and bestowed sentimental titles on his pictures such as, ‘The Farmer’s Friends’.  He tried to endow animals with human characteristics.

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Sporting Decline

Herring’s sons continued to paint after his death but, in the late 19th century, after the death of Prince Albert, England slipped into a depression which rejected sport.  The increasing developments in the field of photography were also linked to the fall in demand for horse paintings.

‘JF Herring and Sons’ by Oliver Beckett

For more information on JF Herring see the following website on John Frederick Herring

Other Great Equestrian Artists

George Stubbs

Sir Alfred Munnings

© Michelle Le Grand

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