Horse Portrait “The Stroller”
Frances Mabel Hollams (England 1877-1963)
Oil on panel
18 x 13 ½ (frame 19 ½ x 15)
Signed “FM Hollams
Ex Collection Lew House, Bampton, Oxfordshire
Florence or Frances Mabel Hollams was a popular British painter of horses and dogs. She was active in the first three decades of the 20th century. She is noted for her unique technique of painting on wood panels, so the natural grain of the wood remains visible.
Mabel studied under the artist Franck Calderon, and at a time when most schools didn’t accept female students, she studied at the Academie Julian in Paris, which showed surprising initiative for a woman of the Victorian Age. By the age of 18 she exhibited at the Royal Academy showing a landscape which at this early stage of her career was her major subject and many of those went to collectors in America. She continued showing at the Royal Academy until 1912.
Early in her career she ceased painting compositions and turned her focus to portraying the simpler aspects of equestrian portraiture. Most of the influential sportsmen of the day became her patrons including the Duke of Norfolk, Earl Sefton, Earl Beatty, Lord Cornwallis, etc.
After looking at a horse for only five minutes and making a few sketches on pieces of wood in her paint box, she would herself take the wheel of her large car putting the chauffeur in the back (his duties incidentally had been to remove samples of the horse’s mane and coat for reference). Payment for commissions would be placed on a silver tray held by the butler in the entry hall.
Though never under any financial pressure, Hollams painted constantly and maintained a prodigious output. Many of her most attractive portraits were from the canine field. Her portraits of favorite dogs and horses filled many country houses were hung with pride. A portrait of Her Majesty the Queen’s Aureole hangs at the top of the visitor’s staircase at Sandringham Castle.
Stella Walker comments in “British Sporting Art of the Twentieth Century” that Hollams 'had to compete with such outstanding exponents as Munnings and Lionel Edwards', but their respective styles were so different the comparison is hardly relevant. Hollams filled a need for lifelike reminders of treasured horses and dogs for customers who probably had little interest in art. The results have an almost iconic appeal and represent a way of life that changed forever after the first and second world wars, when the country piles, with stables full of horses, which she visited in her large car, started to decay and be sold off when their incumbents could no longer afford their upkeep.
One of the best collections of work by Hollams can be seen at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire, the property of the National Trust. British National Trust; Sandringham Castle; Royal Academy, etc.