Monday, June 25, 2012

Sometimes A Not So Great Notion, Or When Buffoons Horse Around (1831)

By Stephen J. Gertz
 A good rider can hear his horse speak to him, a great rider can hear his horse whisper, but a bad rider won't hear his horse even if it screams at him. 
• • •
 Right now it's only a notion. l think l can get money to make it into a concept, then turn it into an idea - Alvy Singer (Woody Allen), Annie Hall.
I have a NOTION that DUCROW could not excel this...his is all Art, mine Nature.

Some notions are best left just that particularly when they get into the heads of amateurs with horseback ambitions and delusions of grandeur. Slapstick ensues.

I had no NOTION of the Comforts of Hunting by Water.

1831-33. Henry Alken, sporting caricaturist, had a great notion that a series of engraved plates with wittily understated captions satirizing  men on steeds at unsafe speeds and the horse's ass on horseback would tickle the withers of those who find the pretensions of the upwardly mobile downright funny, i.e. everybody. He turned the notion into a concept, the concept into an idea, and Sporting Notions was born, twisting the not-so-great notions of nincompoops in the saddle into a great lampoon.

I have a NOTION that this Bridge will a-Bridge my Sport.

Inspired perhaps by circus performer Andrew Ducrow (1793-1842), "The Father of British Circus Equestrianism," and his popular acrobatics on horseback act at Astley's Amphitheater, Alken, who took special glee when riders landed on their glutes, imagined them as inept performers in a bent Cirque du Soliel, equestrian ninnies in a cirque du oy vey.

I have a NOTION that this may be called "Riding to the hounds at a Smashing rate."

In thirty-six soft-ground etched and aquatint plates, Alken skewers those in over their heads on horseback and drowning while on a fox hunt. Somewhere, the fox is on the sidelines texting his den mates, "ROTFLMAO."

I had a NOTION that Timber jumping was quite an easy thing.
I held him TIGHT in hand, too.

Henry Thomas Alken (1785-1841)  "was the dominant sporting artist of the early nineteenth century... he delivered a long series of designs to the leading sporting printsellers—S. and J. Fuller, Thomas McLean, and Rudolph Ackermann among others.

"He was also a prolific designer, etcher, and lithographer of scenes relating to racing, shooting, coaching, and other sports... He wrote several books on aspects of engraving, including The Art and Practice of Engraving (1849).

"In later life he drifted into ill health, consumption, and poverty... He died in the early summer of 1851" (Oxford DNB)

 I have a NOTION  that the Brute is going to make the best of his way out
and leave us to shift for ourself.

I have a NOTION this is not the HARD way the Man told us of.

Quite scarce, only four copies of Sporting Notions have come to auction within the last thirty-six years but only one, twenty-eight years ago at Christie's in 1984, was colored.

Modern litterateurs will have picked up the reference to Ken Kesey's magnum opus in today's headline, the hard-headed Stamper family's motto, "Never Give An Inch," apropos of the the stubborn pride exhibited by the soft-headed whose self-appraisal of their skills on horseback is off by a mile.

ALKEN, Henry. Sporting Notions. London: T. McLean, 1831-33.

First edition. Oblong quarto (10 1/4 x 14 1/8 in; 261 x 358 mm). Thirty-six hand-colored soft-ground etchings and aquatints with tissue guards as issued without title page, watermarked 1831-1833.

Tooley 54. Siltzer p. 73.

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

Of related interest:

Slightly Nuts But Not Crazy: Artist Henry Alken Lampoons Art.

A Horse's Ass In The Saddle, With Henry Alken.

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