Sporting Art in Eighteenth Century England:
A Social and Political History

Stephen Deuchar

Publicaton Date
May 1988
Standard Number
Yale University Press
204 pages

English sporting art emerged as a distinctive genre in the early years of the eighteenth century. At the same time, the rural pastimes it depicted came under increasing critical scrutiny. In this handsome book, Stephen Deuchar presents the first full account of this artistic phenomenon, combining a cogent analysis of the ideologies lying behind these sports with the history of their imagery. 

Deuchar explains that although the activities addressed by sporting pictures were traditionally practised by the upper levels of society, they seemed to encourage a kind of behaviour that ran sharply against the moral, social, and economic ideals espoused by the ruling classes themselves. Some sporting artists – most notably George Stubbs – attempted on behalf of their patrons to resolve this contradiction by presenting rural sports in a favourable, implicitly responsible light. Others, encouraged by the developing confidence of the sporting world and the expanding popularity of its pastimes, were content to nurture and publicize the very customs that were causing most controversy. In the long term, the latter group held sway, drawing the genre even further from the mainstream of the art world.

Today, enthusiasts of sporting art tend to be enthusiasts of rural sport, and the work of most sporting artists has been ignored by connoisseurs. However, the widespread but comparatively recent recognition of the abilities of Stubbs in particular has reawakened a general curiosity about the genre as a whole. Building on this, Deuchar demonstrates that the interest of sporting art goes beyond the interest of its subject matter, and his study of its development in the eighteenth century is a valuable source for understanding the interaction of art and society.