Friday, February 18, 2011

The Comic (and True!) Misadventures of a Man Maladjusted to a Horse

by Stephen J. Gertz

"Shivering the timbers"

The Reins of Terror: The Count can't cantor, leaps to contusions, falls to the rear. Tally Ha! Ha! Ha!

"Larking - more dirt, the less hurt!"

Poor Count Sandor. He visits his friend, Lord Alvanley, in Leicestershire, gets on a horse, participates in a fox hunt, and spends half of his time trying to stay on his mount, the other half on his keister.

"Doing it well"

Count Sandor's Exploits in Leicestershire, published by R. Ackermann, Jr., son of the great English publisher of prints, Rudolph Ackermann, in 1833, is a color-plate book of extraordinary scarceness, with OCLC/KVK noting only one copy in library holdings worldwide (Union Catalogue Italy). The ten mounted hand-colored aquatints by Edward Duncan (1803-1882) after paintings by John Ferneley make their Internet debut here on Booktryst.

"A flying leap! - apr├Ęs vous monsieur"

The British Museum has no records in its online database for individual prints from this series, nor of  Ferneley's original paintings upon which these aquatint engravings were based.  This is the first copy to come to market in eighteen years of this classic, desirable, and priceless visual narrative of a woefully inept equestrian with a marvelous self-deprecating sense of humor.

"That's your sort"
 "Smooth glides the water where the brook is deep"
 "He's off! - no, he's on! - he hangs by the rein!"

"At first sight these drawings appear to be, more or less, examples of caricature, but, as a matter of fact, they are actual adventures, described first hand and in ludicrous terms to the artist by the hero, and depicted in the same spirit.

"Taking it coolly - very like a whale!"
 "Yooi - over he goes!"

"Count Sandor, the performer in this pictorial epic, was a Hungarian nobleman who spent one season at Melton Mowbray, on a visit to Lord Alvanley. His daring horsemanship, together with the ensuing mishaps, were the provocation to many a merry laugh over the Melton dinner tables, at the time and long after" (Siltzer).

"A Floorer - pick up the pieces!"

"John Ferneley (1782–1860), sporting painter, was born on 18 May 1782 in the village of Thrussington, 6 miles from Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. In 1801 he began a three-year apprenticeship to the Leicestershire-born sporting artist Ben Marshall (1768–1835). Within ten years of starting his apprenticeship Ferneley was earning in excess of £200 a year. The centre of the sporting world, the ‘queen of the shires’ (Brownlow), was Melton Mowbray, and in 1813 Ferneley took lodgings there and in the following year he built in the town first a studio and then a substantial house.. From 1818 onwards he proudly signed his paintings ‘John Ferneley, Melton Mowbray’ and never lacked commissions. He was a prolific painter. Between 1806 and 1853 Ferneley exhibited twenty-two pictures at the Royal Academy, four at the British Institution, and thirteen at Suffolk Street. His average earnings were about £400 a year" (Oxford DNB).

I have a personal affection for British caricature and its often go-for-the-jugular satire. Booktryst recently covered one of Henry Alken's rarer color-plate books satirizing the pretensions of a Londoner inept in the saddle. What makes this volume so very special is that the object of the satire is the one telling the jokes at his own expense, and delightfully so.

FERNELEY, J. Count Sandor's Exploits in Leicestershire. London: R. Ackermann, Jr. 1833. First edition. Folio (16 x 19 in; 408 x 494 mm). Ten mounted hand-colored aquatints by E. Duncan after J. Ferneley, captioned London, Pub.d 1st Aug.t 1833 by R. Ackermann Jun.r at his ECLIPSE Sporting Gallery, 191 Regent St., each full margined measuring 14 1/4 x 16 1/2 inches (357 x 420 mm).

Siltzer 121 (2d ed., 1841). Wilder p. 126. Bobins 775. Mellon Prints, p. 72. Not in Schwert.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

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