19th Century Painting of Prize Derbyshire Bull for Auction at Bonhams

A splendid 19th century oil painting portrait of a prize Derbyshire bull by the artist Thomas Roebuck is for sale at Bonhams Gentleman’s Library Sale in London on 19 January. It is estimated at between £6,000 and £8,000.

The picture is signed and inscribed ‘Mr Thomas Roebuck, artist, Wirksworth.” The Wirksworth Parish Records for the 1841 census show a Thomas Roebuck artist living at Kirk Ireton. His age is given as 35 and he was born in the county. Wirksworth is near Matlock.

In the 19th century agriculture played a much larger role in the economy that it does now. Huge improvements had been made in breeding techniques to provide meat for an expanding population and many early animal paintings were commissioned to advertise these advances. The prize bull painted by Mr Roebuck may, however, have been bred more for exhibition at agricultural shows which were popular pastimes as well as working events for a population still living overwhelmingly in rural communities. Animals could be fattened for up to seven years to obtain the desired dimensions, competition at the shows was fierce and some of the animals became celebrities in their own right.

In the absence of photographic evidence it is difficult to know how accurate animal portraits are. It has been suggested that some famers were not above encouraging a little artistic licence to exaggerate the size of their prized possessions.

The Gentleman’s Library Sale is now in its 11th year. Unique to Bonhams, the sale features all kinds of objects that may have been found in a Victorian or Edwardian Gentleman’s Library from fossils to cigarette boxes, leather armchairs to globes, chess sets to family portraits.


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