A Superb Early 20thC Oil on Board of A Racing Pigeon; R.N. Robert c.1914


Origin: British
Period: Early Twentieth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1914
Canvas Height: 11.25 inches
Canvas Width: 7.75 inches
The Whole: 16.5 X 14 inches

The framed and glazed oil on board study depicting a racing pigeon in profile with ringed leg, against a summery sky and a burnished orange ground with a flying flock in the distance is signed R.N. Robert and dated 1914 lower right, presented in the original quality gilt frame with inset slip.

The overall condition is wonderfully original with an even craquelure apparent and there are no signs of damage the painting, with one or two small areas of loss to the frame.

Provincial in style and painted in or around the start of World War I, the picture was clearly painted with a high level of skill; the balance is superb both in the colour use and proportions of the bird whilst the bold yet dainty brushstrokes give the work real clarity.

From the earliest days of organised pigeon racing, special prizes have been awarded for outstanding performances and particular events. Each bird has a rubber ring on its leg, which is stamped by the owner using a special timing punch when it gets home showing the exact time it arrived. One is then able to calculate the average velocity, in yards per minute, that the bird travelled. Today these are often photographs but in the late nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century it was common for a portrait painting to be commissioned of the winning pigeon. Demand for such trophies was at its highest in the 1920's when several notable artists were working in the field.

These artists had a number of silhouettes of pigeons made up in cardboard or ply which they would match up to the pigeon. Once they had found the shape that fitted best he would draw around it to get the outline of the bird. To get the colours of the feathering right, they would keep a few feathers after the bird had been returned to its owner and use these as a guide. Surprisingly, pigeon lofts rarely featured in the background of the portraits, rather the artists would paint a backdrop of country scenes.

An immensely covetable picture today, almost a century on from its conception; if only we knew the name of this proud prize winning bird.