PLOVER, c.1850

Important Australian + International Fine Art
25 November 2009

Joseph Fowles

(1810 - 1878)
PLOVER, c.1850

oil on canvas

35.5 x 45.5 cm

signed and inscribed lower left: J. Fowles / Sydney
inscribed verso: “Plover” / Painted by J. Fowles / Sydney
inscribed on stretcher in a different hand: “Plover” /Bred by Charles Roberts of Walgrove / from imported stock. / Jockey Jimmy Higginson (sic)

$40,000 - 60,000

Sotheby's, Sydney, 16 October 1984, lot 262
Private collection, Sydney


‘Fowles' Art Union', Bell's Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle, 29 May 1858, no pagination

Catalogue text

In 1858 the colonial press announced that the noted painter of racehorses, Joseph Fowles, was to dispose, 'through the medium of an Art Union', ten portraits of Australian 'turf celebrities'.1 Some years before, Fowles had sent to England portraits of the champions Jorrocks, Plover, Cossack and Sportsman 'for the purpose of having a number of engravings of these Australian cracks struck off for disposal amongst the patrons of the Australian turf.'2 As the venture did not receive the support expected, Fowles had to seek another means of remuneration, especially as he had added portraits of the Champion Lauristina, Veno, Dora, Cooramin, Sampson, and Van Tromp. Fowles achieved such an outstanding reputation in this field that a few months later the same newspaper referred to him as 'our colonial Herring' after the great English sporting painter, John Frederick Herring (1795-1865).3 Originally admired for his marine paintings, by the early 1850s Fowles had turned to horses, a 1855 report stating that the Governor-General had commissioned him to paint his favourite riding horse Sam Weller.4 Two years later he exhibited portraits of Van Tromp and Cooramin in Fine Art Exhibition staged at the Mechanics School of Arts. Numerous commissions continued through the sixties - Zoe the Champion, 1860, bred by Thomas Icely, an early landholder in the Bathurst district; Mr Justice Cheek's celebrated pair Clore and Sir Patrick; and Barbelle, 1870, three time winner of the Doncaster Stakes, the V.R.C. Flying Stakes, and the Sydney Cup. Fowles painted a range of equestrian pictures including the oils Robert Fitzgerald and His Sister Lucy Out Riding (National Library of Australia), Stephen Butts on a White Horse, Macquarie Street, Sydney and the homestead portrait of Bungarribee stud, Eastern Creek, New South Wales, the two latter works being in the Mitchell Library's collection. His interest was such that by 1862 he established the Newmarket training Stables at Randwick. Some years before, as mentioned, Fowles had painted the legendary 'Iron Gelding' Jorrocks. Although sixty-five wins are recorded, nobody knows how many races Jorrocks actually won; but he was enormously popular and is said to have been the first racehorse to be illustrated in the colonial press. A few years before, in 1848, the Sydney artist Thomas Balcombe (1810-1861) painted companion portraits of Jorrocks and Plover. The paintings are now in the collection of the Mitchell Library, Sydney.5

The handsome brown stallion Plover, a rival of Jorrocks, was one of the best racehorses in New South Wales during the 1840s. Bred by Charles Roberts at his thoroughbred stud of Walgrove, Prospect, in the County of Cumberland, New South Wales, he was foaled in about 1844 by St John (imp.) out of Fairy by Peter Fin (imp.).6 A renowned racehorse owner and bloodhorse breeder, Roberts' champions included Cossack, bred by Thomas Icely. For his portrait of Plover, Fowles chose a country racecourse setting showing the stallion in splendid profile, elegant of form, and mounted by his jockey Johnny Higgerson.7 Higgerson, who was one of the outstanding jockeys of his day, rode for Roberts during the 1840s.

1.'Fowles' Art Union', Bell's Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle, 29 May 1858, no pagination
2. ibid.
3. ibid., 4 September 1858
4.'Fine Arts', Illustrated Sydney News, 13 January 1855, p. 21
5. Plover (Age 5), March 1848, ML 1407; & Old Jorrocks (Age 16) 1848, ML 1408
6. Moyston, H.P., The Stud Book of New South Wales, Containing Pedigrees of Race Horses, &c., &c., &c., from the Earliest Arrivals in the Colony to the Present Time, vol. 2, p. 115; and vol. 3, p. 126. A different horse by the name of 'Plover' won the 1851 AJC Homebush St Leger Stakes He was foaled in 1847 by Aether out of Moonshine by Theorem. 'Young' Plover was bred by John Roberts; and was sent as a sire to New Zealand in 1853.
7. As there are no records of a Jimmy Higginson, the inscription is most likely the result of a confusion of names