An interesting manuscript letter with a well-realized pencil sketch of a racehorse, written in 1877 by a well-regarded American sporting artist to a patron who was the co-founder of a major New York City furniture manufacturer.
This sheet comprises a pencil portrait of a thoroughbred horse, on the back of which is a letter from the artist, Henry Collins Bispham to W.P. Stymus. The horse is depicted in profile, with a flat plain and low mountains indicated in the background. The letter on the back explains that it was a quick sketch, and, “If I had time I could have probably made a better thing of it or if you had said send me a study of the colt either in oil or otherwise I would have painted it for the color of this colt is very fine being a blood bay I think.” He goes on to praise the colt’s fine features and asks Stymus’ assistance in getting him enough orders for paintings in San Francisco to make it worthwhile for him to travel there in the spring. The year after this letter was written, Bispham moved to Europe, eventually opening a studio in Rome.
W.P. Stymus, Sr. co-founded a major furniture manufacturing concern in New York City in 1859. His son, W.P. Stymus, Jr., was on the board of directors by 1890, but given that the letter is dated 1877, it is likely that it was written to W.P. Stymus, Sr. Stymus added an inscription detailing the horse’s pedigree in the upper left corner of the sketch, stating that the colt was raised by D.O. De Wolf of Sackets Harbor, which is a town on Lake Erie near the Canadian border. De Wolf is listed in a contemporaneous registry of the United States Trotting Association as having raised other horses.
Studio 337 4th Av. / Jan. 11th 1877. Mr. Stymus.
I received your communication today from the Proprietor of the 42nd St. Stables and at once hastened to make my sketch[.] Of course it is only a very hasty one and therefore may be very faulty[.] If I had time I could have probably made a better thing of it or if you had said send me a study of the colt either in oil or otherwise I would have painted it for the color of this colt is very fine being a blood bay[.] I think the colt promises to be very speedy if form has anything to do with it for I have never in all my sketching of horses saw better shape[,] fine head, eye, ear, neck, shoulder, [barrel?], flank, legs, or feet, and an elegant tail and mane[.] I hope you will like the sketch although it has not done him justice[.] I saw the [Governor?] the other evening by accident at the hotel and he said he hoped to get away by next Saturday and would come in and see me and the picture two or three times and I have waited for him but he has not so far come. I received the $200 all right thanks to you. I wish you could get for me a sufficient amount in orders in San Francisco to enable me to go out there this spring[.] I think I would [?] great encouragement there and plenty of work. Please let me know if you [?] this and oblige[.]
Very sincerely yours
Henry C. Bispham
I shall wait anxiously to hear of the safe arrival of this sketch. HCB.
Inscription by W.P. Stymus upper right: “Pedigree of Bay Colt. Sired by Billy Mason, by Billy Moxly he by Lexington, the Dam Known as the Ben Dilling Mare she by Stub Tail, he by Hungerford’s Morgan Eagle, he by Mountain Eagle ([?] Horse) & this colt was raised by D O DeWolf of Sacketts [sic] Harbor Jeff Co. N.Y. Blood Bay all Blk points Foaled May 12th 1871. W P Stymus.”
Henry Collins Bispham was an American artist known for his paintings of animals, including animal portraits, pastoral landscapes with domestic animals, wildlife in landscapes, and battle and cavalry scenes. He studied in his native Philadelphia under the direction of William T. Richards. In 1862, he served in the Union Army in Pennsylvania, and after the war he studied abroad for a year with Otto Weber in Paris. Upon returning to America, he lived in New York until 1878, when he moved to Europe, eventually opening a studio in Rome. He was elected a member of the Century Association in 1867, to which he presented A Roman Bull (1867). Other well-known works are On the Campagna, which he exhibited along with other paintings at the National Academy in 1869, The Stampede (1876), Tigris (1878). He exhibited Sultan (1880), a portrait of a lion, in the Paris Salon of 1880 and at the Royal Academy in London, after which it was presented to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He died in Rome in 1882.
William P. Stymus, Sr. was co-founder of Pottier & Stymus, a prominent American furniture and design firm of the Victorian period beginning in 1856, which manufactured fine furniture for prominent clients such as Thomas Edison, William Rockefeller, Leland Stanford and Henry M. Flagler. The firm also contributed custom furnishings to large hotels in New York City, including the Waldorf, as well as to the President’s Office and Cabinet Room of President Ulysses S. Grant. William P. Stymus, Jr., was a director of the company by 1890 and president by 1895. The company was profiled in 1895 in King’s Photographic Views of New York, which noted, “Just as essential as an architect in the placing and construction of the structure is the artist in the designing and manufacturing of the furnishing and decorations. In this latter field stands pre-eminent the house of Pottier & Stymus Co.”
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear. Some light smudging of pencil. Folds as issued. Originally designed with the first page of the letter to be the front self cover, opening to a double page horse illustration, with the second page of the letter as the back self cover.
Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966. Vol. 1, p. 676.
Brown, John Howard, ed. Lamb’s Biographical Dictionary of the United States, Vol. 1. Boston: James H. Lamb, 1900. p. 305. Online at Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=rPoUAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA305 (14 September 2015).
“Henry Bispham.” Askart.com. http://www.askart.com/artist_bio/Henry_Collins_Bispham/28182/Henry_Collins_Bispham.aspx (13 September 2015).
King, Moses. King’s Photographic Views of New York. New York, Moses King, 1895. p. 618. Online at Google Books: https://books.google.com/books?id=JYtCAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA618 (14 September 2015).
“Pottier & Stymus.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pottier_%26_Stymus (13 September 2015).