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Herring, born in London in 1795, was the son of a London merchant of Dutch parentage, who had been born overseas in America. The first eighteen years of Herring's life were spent in London, where his greatest interests were drawing and horses. In the year 1814, at the age of 18, he moved to Doncaster in the north of England, arriving in time to witness the Duke of Hamilton's "William" win the St. Leger Stakes horserace. By 1815, Herring had married Ann Harris; his sons John Frederick Herring Jr., Charles Herring, and Benjamin Herring were all to become artists, while his two daughters, Ann and Emma, both married painters. When she was barely of age in 1845 Ann married Harrison Weir.
A highly successful and prolific artist, Herring ranks along with Sir Edwin Landseer as one of the more eminent animal painters of mid-nineteenth (19th) century Europe. The paintings of Herring were very popular, and many were engraved, including his 33 winners of the St. Leger and his 21 winners of the Derby. Herring exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1818–1865, at the British Institution from 1830–1865, and at the Society of British Artists in 1836-1852, where Herring became Vice-President in 1842.