The distinct colouring of the dog in the present lot could be described as that of the Marlborough or Blenheim Breed, which is thought to have been developed by the first Duke of Marlborough when he introduced red and white Spaniels to the UK. For examples of the breed see Neville Lyntton's Toy Dogs and their ancestors (1911).
At the time the present lot was painted, circa 1819, Gilston Park was the residence of a Mr William Plumer (1736-1822). Plumer was a man of immense wealth and political influence and in 1781 the English Chronicle described him as "one of the most opulent country gentlemen in the kingdom...[his] estates in Essex, Middlesex, and Suffolk, make up a clear income of fifteen thousand pounds per annum". With such wealth at his disposal Plumer was able to embark on a vibrant political career, representing Lewes in 1763, Hertfordshire to 1807 and finally Higham Ferres until his death in 1822. In 1820, near the end of his career, Charles Lamb described him as "The fine(st) old Whig still living".
While Plumer's political vibrancy is well documented, his personal life was far from happy, most notably during his long marriage to his cousin Jane Hamilton. Jane was thirty years his junior and through determined effort she gradually took over the administration of her elderly husband's estate, eventually forcing him into a solitary life at Gilston. So completely was the MP dominated by his wife that on his death in 1822, aged 86, he left all his lands, tenements, hereditaments, "and all household goods and furniture, wines, books, pictures, plate, linen and china, all horses and carriages . . . and all the live and dead stock in Husbandry" to his widow. This would undoubtedly have included the present lot, which it seems, was painted by the young Landseer in the last years of Plumers life as a celebration of his favourite Spaniel.
On the death of William Plumer his widow was quick to marry again, firstly to Commander Richard John Lewin, and secondly to Robert Ward (1765-1846), novelist and politician. Following their marriage in 1828, Ward took up residence at Gilston Park and subsequently assumed the surname and arms of Plumer, becoming Plumer-Ward after 1828. It is assumed that the picture remained in the household until the death of Plumer-Ward in 1846 (Jane died in 1831) and at some point between then and the first of the Christie's sales in 1894, it became the property of the Duke and Duchess of Montrose.
The Montrose/Plumer-Ward connection can be traced back to the tempestuous political climate of the first decades of the 19th century. The radicalism and unrest of the period that followed the Napoleonic Wars was preceded by an unsettled relationship between the Monarch and the House of Commons. The worsening mental health of George III led to a questioning of his authority in the Commons and after the death of William Pitt the Younger in 1806, a series of unsuccessful and unsupported coalitions rose and fell from power. By 1811 the Kings sensibility had almost entirely given way and the Prince of Wales was poised to take power with a new administration. It was on this issue, as Plumer-Ward records in his memoirs, that he and the Duke of Montrose exchanged thoughts. Numerous recorded letters point to the centrality of Plumer-Ward's position within the influential circles of the Tory party and as ardent supporters of the King, the two men were united in their opposition to the Prince Regent and his ambition to gain unrestricted Royal power. An amendment was passed in favour of the Prince on 2nd Jan 1811 and was opposed by the Kings ministers with a small margin, as Plumer-Ward records 'Jan 2nd 1811. Saw the Duke of Montrose at the Palace who observed we did not shine the night before'.
Plumer-Ward's memoirs go on to recount several other meetings and casual conversations with the Duke and with converging political views, their close acquaintance would surely have remained throughout their careers. It may then have been further strengthened in 1828 by Plumer-Ward's marriage to Jane Hamilton, grand-daughter of the 7th Earl of Abercorn, and thus his graduation into the English ruling classes.
We can therefore trace the journey of the present lot from the hands of William Plumer, to his wife Jane, to her third husband Robert Plumer-Ward, and finally to the Duke and Duchess of Montrose who eventually sold the painting, by auction, in 1894/5 as part of a large collection of property.
The inscription on the reverse remains the only irregularity. It states: 'Mr Plumer-Ward's dog. I remember the dog coming to Foley Street [studio 1815-1828] to sit for my brother for this picture. Painted by Sir E. Landseer RA' [indistinctly signed] by T. Landseer (as confirmed by Christie's 1894 entry). The tone of the inscription suggests that it was added at a later date by Edwin's elder brother therefore it is possible that, in an attempt to describe the origins of the painting and the events that led to the sitting, Thomas assumed that the dog belonged to the present resident of Gilston Park, Robert Plumer-Ward, rather than William Plumer, who as we now know was the correct 'Plumer' and resident of Gilston park, and therefore owner of the dog, at the time the picture was painted and exhibited.
There is further evidence that the painting sold in 1894/95 is the same as the work exhibited in 1819. The Christie's 1894 catalogue entry states the exhibition as provenance as follows: 'Exhibited at the Royal Academy, 1819, as "A dog of the Marlborough breed belonging to Mr Plumer". The indistinct stencil on the reverse of the painting (90K) also appears to match the Christie's stock number for the Montrose property, which was 190K.
With William Plumer, to his wife Jane
With Robert Plumer-Ward (Jane's third husband)
With Duke and Duchess of Montrose
Christies, London, The contents of Duke of Montrose, 14th July 1894, lot 18.
Christies, London, Anonymous sale, 4th May 1895, lot 68.
With Henry Graves
With Leggatt Brothers, London.
With a US private collection.
London, Royal Academy, 1819, no. 930.
Algernon Graves, Catalogue of the works of the late Sir Edwin Landseer, RA Henry Graves & Co. Pall Mall, London, p.6. Listed as Dog of the Marlborough breed, the property of Mr Plumer, of Gilston Park, Herts, exhibited at the RA, 1819'(see reverse label)