Thomas Percy Earl is one of the most important equestrian artists of the late 19th and early 20th century. He was born in 1874 and the Earls, his family, were renowned for their sporting and animal painters. His father, George Earl (1824-1908) was an important painter of sporting dogs, his uncle Thomas Earl (1836-1885) exhibited paintings of horses and dogs prolifically at the Royal Academy, and his younger half-siter, Maud Earl (1863-1943) was arguably the pre-eminent painter of pure-bred dogs in the 19th century, painting dogs bellonging to the Royal Family.
Thomas Percy Earl is regarded as a fine and accomplished artist, both by his contemporaries and today. His horse portraiture is amongst the best of the period, with a high-quality attention to detail and realism, but also important and thoughtful elements of naturalism and compositional clarity, giving his subjects both a striking presence and a soft tone. His work also often included some favourite hounds, setting his work apart from equestrian portraits of the day. He was very prolific and lucrative during his life, working for high-profile patrons and contributing equestrian cartoons to Vanity Fair.
The painting above is of Precipitation, the 1937 Ascott Gold Cup winner. The jockey mounted upon the horse is none other than Fred Archer, the most infamous and talented jockey of the Victorian Era. His success on the race track earned him the title 'The Tin Man', and he was Champion Jockey for 13 years until 1886. However, his success on the racecourse was mirrored by a tumultuous personal life, mared by insecurity and constant pressure. Delirious from wasting and the loss of his wife during childbirth, Fred Archer commited suicide at the age of 29.
The painting by Thomas Percy Earl above is therefore historically important, a dilligent nod to one of racing's most important jockeys and horse at the height of their careers. It also gives a wonderful insight into the world of Victorian racing, with beautiful rendition of a champion horse at the apex of his strength, and the infamous jockey sat atop, contemplating both success and failure.