James Seymour

The Duke of Kingston's liver chestnut racehorse 'Jolly Roger' led by a mounted groom in a wooded landscape

Oil on canvas: 30.5(h) x 48.7(w) in /

77.5(h) x 123.8(w) cm

Signed with monogram & dated 1750

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BF 21



Circa 1702 – London – 1752


The Duke of Kingston’s liver chestnut racehorse Jolly Roger led by a mounted groom in a wooded landscape


Signed with initials and dated lower right: J:S / 1750

Canvas: 30 ½ x 48 ¾ in / 77 x 123.8 cm



Rutland Gallery, London

Mr and Mrs Jack R Dick;

their sale Sotheby’s London, 23rd April 1975, lot 136

The Collection of Simon Sainsbury (1930-2006), Woolbeding House, Sussex


To be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the work of James Seymour being prepared by Katrina Beckett



The crimson livery of the groom in this painting suggests that the horse is the liver chestnut gelding Jolly Roger, bred and owned by Evelyn Pierrepont, 2nd Duke of Kingston (1712-1773). Kingston’s racing colours were crimson. Jolly Roger, by Stamford’s Mogul, a son of the Godolphin Arabian, out of a Partner mare, was foaled in 1743. He was the only horse that Kingston had in training between 1747 and 1751; Seymour’s portrait is dated 1750. Jolly Roger won races at Lincoln, Peterborough and Grantham, in the area of the Duke’s Nottinghamshire mansion, Thoresby Hall. In 1751 Jolly Roger was imported to America by John Spotswood, a landowner of Spotsylvania County, Virginia. He became a distinguished sire in the years before his death in 1769.


The rackety Evelyn Pierrepont, described by Horace Walpole as ‘a very weak man, but of the greatest beauty and the finest person in England’[1], inherited his Dukedom at the age of twenty-one and embarked on a ten-year Grand Tour which gave him a taste for gambling, philandering and French art. From 1767 to 1771 John Carr of York created for him a magnificent new house at Thoresby to replace the one destroyed by fire in 1745. Thoresby Park was celebrated for its venison, fishing and racing stables; after Jolly Roger Kingston became a member of the Jockey Club and a notable owner of racehorses, many of which were painted. Kingston’s greatest notoriety came from his marriage in 1769 to the voluptuous adventuress Elizabeth Chudleigh, unaware that she was already married to Augustus Hervey, heir to the Earldom of Bristol. She led him a merry dance before his death in 1773.





Circa 1702 – London – 1752


James Seymour was born in London, the son of a banker, goldsmith and diamond merchant, who supplied plate for racing trophies.  Seymour’s father was an amateur artist, a member and, in 1702, a Steward of the Virtuosi Club of St Luke, to which John Wootton and Peter Tillemans also belonged.


Seymour began to draw at an early age and studied pictures and prints in his father’s collection. In 1720 he attended the art academy in St Martin’s Lane founded by Louis Chéron and John Vanderbank; the raffish Vanderbank became a friend. Encouraged by his father, he received introductions to the leading artists of the day. Seymour developed a passion for horse racing and is believed to have owned racehorses. He was among the first English painters to specialise exclusively in sporting subject matter. In 1739 the Universal Spectator declared that Seymour was ‘reckoned the finest draughtsman in his way [of horses, hounds etc.] in the whole world’. George Vertue noted his ‘genius to drawing of Horses’, as well as his life as a young rake: ‘the darling of his Father run thro some thousands – livd gay high and loosely – horse raceing gameing women &c.’ (Note books, vol. III, p.86). Seymour’s prolific output in paintings and sketches belies this portrait of indolence.


Among Seymour’s patrons were the banker Peter Delmé, John Jolliffe, MP and the 6th Duke of Somerset. He was commissioned by the latter to decorate a room with portraits of racehorses; however, they quarrelled and the project never materialised. Many of Seymour’s racing, hunting and stable scenes were engraved, among them Twelve Prints of Hunter and Running Horses (c.1750) and thirty-four racehorse portraits (1741-54). According to Vertue, the latter part of Seymour’s life ‘was spent in the lowest circumstances of debt’ (op. cit., vol. III, p.86). He died unmarried in Southwark on 30th June 1752.


The work of James Seymour is represented in Tate Britain, London; the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA. 





[1] Pamela Priestland, ‘Pierrepont, Evelyn, second duke of Kingston’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004-8.

SportingJames Seymour