In this work, Thomas Assheton Smith (1776-1858) sits astride his horse, a second magnificent creature at his side. Assheton Smith was a wealthy landowner, the inheritor of money made by his father in the Welsh slate industry. He was unusual in the early 19th century for owning a large pack of hounds himself, a costly undertaking. Much more common by this time was the subscription pack, jointly owned by a large group who paid for it, as the term suggests, by subscription. But Assheton Smith hunted his hounds regularly in season, and was well-known for his daring exploits in the field, as well as for his lavish hospitality. On the death of his father in 1828, he moved to Tedworth in Wiltshire. Some accounts give the date of this move as 1830, but since the work has been dated as 1829, this seems the more likely. He is pictured here by Ferneley, with the grand family house in the distance.
Mid-twentieth century specialist of sporting art, Guy Paget, mentions this painting more than once in his articles on the genre, while it is reproduced on the cover of the July 1946 edition of Apollo. In his notes on this cover reproduction, Paget comments that “it was painted in 1829 and cost 84 pounds plus 10 pounds 10s expenses. It was sold about 10 years ago to the late Sir Abe Bailey for some few thousand pounds and is now, I believe, in the South African National Gallery. This painting has been rated by experts as one of the 100 best sporting pictures in the world, but I would with confidence knock off a nought.” (Apollo, July 1946). In an earlier reference, Paget reveals that the exact price paid for this work was 7,500 pounds. The reference to the date of Bailey’s purchase suggests it joined the collection around 1936.
The son of a wheelwright, Ferneley worked for a while in the same trade, but became known for his painted decorations of the wagons that had come into the forge for repair. With financial support from the Duke of Rutland, Ferneley was able to turn to painting full-time, training with sporting artist Ben Marshall. Thomas Assheton Smith was an early important patron of Ferneley’s work, but after the artist set up a permanent studio (c.1814) in Melton Mowbray, in the centre of hunting country, his patron list grew to include many prestigious hunting enthusiasts, including his early supporter the Duke of Rutland. Ferneley became a major producer of sporting paintings, and a number were translated into prints, appearing in The Sporting Magazine and elsewhere. Of Ferneley’s eight children, three carried on the father’s profession, including his daughter Sarah (1811-1903).