Harry Hall is well known as a prolific painter of racehorse portraits in the middle years of the 19th Century, succeeding J.F. Herring Snr, as the principal recorder of Classic and Gold Cup winners, and providing an invaluable record of all the best horses of the period before the camera began to supplant the artist’s brush. Starting his career as a painter of human portraits, Harry Hall often included these in his pictures, telling us what the owners, trainers and jockeys looked like. This was at a time when the turf was only beginning to be regularised and staggered from one crisis of skulduggery to the next – all connected with gambling.
Harry Hall was born in Cambridge in 1815, the first son of Henry Atherton Hall, yeoman and later butler at St. John’s College. It seems that he was almost totally self-taught as an artist receiving only a short training in London before settling in Newmarket in 1837, where he lived for the rest of his life. In 1838, his first painting accepted at a Royal Academy exhibition was a portrait of Edward Weatherby, Keeper of the Match Book. Thereafter nearly all his exhibited work was of racehorses and a few anecdotal genre scenes so loved by the Victorian public. His quiet and upright nature endeared him to like-minded members of the racing fraternity, many of whom appreciated his skill in assessing the good and bad points of racehorses which he depicted with total honesty. The main purpose in all his painting, much of which was engraved, was to be able to provide a far better education for his sons and daughters than he had received. His sudden death at Newmarket in April 1882 was recorded in one obituary as being: “widely regretted, not alone at Newmarket, where he was best known, but also in the many country houses scattered through the length and breadth of these islands, wherein his name has long been a familiar word.”
This book describes the organisation of racing, those who influenced its development and those who abused it for their own ends, the Classic races, winners, their jockeys, trainers and owners during the period in which Hall was working at Newmarket his pictures exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Royal Society of Artists, the British Institution and the Ipswich Fine Art Club are listed; as are nearly one hundred engraved plates after his paintings when he was employed by Fuller, Moore, Baily Brothers and other publishers of the day. There is also a record of his work for the Sporting Magazine, The Field and the Illustrated London News. Harry Hall’s immense output of portraits of Classic winners, unparalleled even by Herring, provides us with an accurate and colourful picture of racing in the mid-nineteenth century.