Love of Gundog Trials Ain’t What It Used to Be

Do you have an interest in the history of international retriever field trials? Do you have $80,000 sitting around? Well … Continued

Do you have an interest in the history of international retriever field trials? Do you have $80,000 sitting around? Well then, here’s a deal for you…

From this story on scotsman.com:
“Peter of Faskally”, a Perthshire estate dog, was feted as one of Scotland’s best-performing gundogs in trials at the turn of the 20th century. Owned by Archie Butter, the owner of Faskally Estate near Pitlochry and a well-known Labrador handler, Peter went on to father 32 field trial champions. The painting, which features another of Mr Butter’s Labradors, Dungavel Jet, and is coming up for auction at Bonhams, is by Maud Earl, a British-American artist who was best-known for her paintings of well-known canines. Ms Earl, who famously counted Queen Victoria and Queen Alexandra among her patrons, was born in London, but emigrated to New York in 1916 and died there in 1943.

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_The painting, which is expected to sell for between $60,000 and $80,000, is set to be one of the star attractions at the Bonhams sale Dogs in Show and Field, which is being held at its New York auction house on 16 February. It is also going on display, along with other highlights from the exhibition, at Bonhams’ flagship London showroom for four days next month.

A spokeswoman for Bonhams said: “The Butters were very adept gundog trainers and in the decade running up to the First World War Labrador retrievers owned and trained by the couple appeared consistently on gundog trial leader-boards. “In 1910 Peter of Faskally was the only retriever to win two open stakes in one season and in 1911 was the first champion to compete in an entry composed entirely of Labradors.

“His studwork left a significant legacy – no fewer than 32 of his progeny won or were placed in stakes during the following decade and he is known to be the original bloodline for all present day chocolate Labradors.” Rave reviews of Peter’s performances gripped the nation in the run-up to the First World War, with reports appearing in newspapers including The Scotsman.

Laura Turnbull, an expert at Bonhams, said: “We are extremely excited to be offering such an important work this coming year. “Impressive in both size and content, this painting encapsulates all that is exceptional about Maud Earl. An inherent understanding of her subject is combined with a grandeur that befits such an important dog.”_

The painting is a fascinating bit of retriever history for someone with deep enough pockets to afford it, but what I find really interesting about the story is the paragraph describing Peter’s widespread popularity among the general public. It points out just how popular gundog trials (both the pointy and fetchy kind) used to be.

James Lamb Free’s classic “Training Your Retriever” (1949) even has a section in one of its chapters entitled “Etiquette for the Spectator.” But as interest in watching and following competitive gundog trials has waned–even among the ranks of modern hunters who apparently prefer more television-friendly, antler-centric outdoor fare–the spectator galleries at field trials have disappeared. Which is a shame, because there’s nothing more exciting than watching a well-trained gundog and handler work together.

If you’ve never attended a field trial or hunt test, do yourself a favor and seek one out this spring. There’s a competitive venue and organization for virtually every breed and style of hunting out there, from retrievers and pointers to flushers, versatile dogs and hounds.

And who knows, maybe one day when a commissioned painting of some famous future FC goes on the block at Sotheby’s or Christies, you probably won’t be able to afford it, but you can at least tell your grandkids, “I saw that dog run way-back-when.”