When Lucy Kemp-Welch was asked why she did not paint the thoroughbred horse she replied, " But this other type is always interesting - I mean, the natural type, fashioned by nature and not by man - full of faults, variable, beautiful and lovable beyond words." It was her preference for working horses that has set her apart from other animal painters but when it comes to the art of the horse she has to be mentioned alongside Munnings and Stubbs. Although these other two artists targeted the more aristocratic owners, we at Blondes Fine Art believe that it is Lucy Kemp-Welch who has the more emotional feel of this noble animal. Her ability to capture the strength , boldness and quasi-human emotion of the horse has meant that her work still resonates with horse lovers today.
When her studio was sold by David Messum in the mid 1970's her work was in great demand , as it still is today. Indeed, one of the great collectors of her work - Elizabeth Blaxter- had a collection of over 50 of Kemp-Welch's pencil sketches and when Blaxter died the collection was sold and the proceeds given to horse charities. One of these images ,number 44 in the catalogue, has now returned to Hertfordshire and is now for sale here at Blondes Fine Art.
Lucy kemp-Welch began her formal training with Sir Hubert von Herkomer's painting school at Bushy in Hertfordshire in 1891, although her ability had been nurtured by her father from a young age. Lucy was born in Bournemouth and her father was a keen amateur naturalist so with the New Forest on their doorstep they would go out on expeditions when she would draw the specimens they collected. She sold her first picture at the age of 16 - a horses head - and from 1895 she was exhibiting regularly at the Royal Academy.
So why why was she not elected to the R.A ? Simply, on the grounds that she was a woman!
While the male dominated society restricted her membership to the R.A. the quality of her work could not be ignored and her 1897 work Colt Hunting in the New Forest was purchased by the Chantry Bequest for the Tate, and became one of the first paintings by a woman, they had ever purchased. Between 1895 and 1949 Lucy exhibited and submitted 76 works for the R.A. Summer exhibitions of which 40 were hung.
Perhaps the most famous work by Kemp-Welch was 'Black Beauty'. In 1915 she was commissioned by J.M. Dent to illustrate Anna Sewell's classic 'Black Beauty'. She used 'Black Prince' as the model , a horse given to her by Robert Baden-Powell. It has been said that this commission allowed her to draw parallels from her own life to the book , with her independence, sense of duty, hopes and disappointments all featuring in the classic tale.
The years of WW1 were a difficult time for all and the time during which she made her most renowned images -Forward to Victory-Enlist Now, poster among many others . This aspect of her life is particularly interesting, how she was given unfettered access to the Cavalry horses in training and how she persistently attempted to find ways to get out to the front to paint the War Horse. This will be the topic of another specific blog in the coming months.