Ramsay Richard Reinagle , RA
A Hunting Dog holding a cat at bay in a woodland
Anon. sale; Christie’s, London, 19 Nov. 1982, lot 8.
Private collection, UK.
Son of the painter Philipp Reinagle (1749 – 1833), Ramsay Richard executed this picture at the precocious age of 18 and had begun exhibiting at the Royal Academy five years earlier. The sure handling of composition and chiaroscuro belies the artist’s youth. Taught by his father, Ramsay Richard was strongly influenced by 17th century Dutch painters of nature such as Ruisdael, Potter and Wouwerman, and he occasionally reproduced their works. Reinagle was an adept painter of animals, hunting scenes and landscapes, and the influence of these earlier artists is often detectable in his paintings during a period when earlier Dutch art was highly collectable in Britain. Adapting these modes to appeal to a contemporary audience, Reinagle made sure to depict subjects and themes which could appeal to the English country gentleman and often portrayed hunting scenes prominently featuring English breeds of dog.
In this composition a water spaniel has cornered a wild cat up an oak tree and a standoff has ensued. The scene has been caught with a theatrical spotlight effect using the backdrop of a large sandstone boulder. The spaniel has chased the cat away from its prize of a dead bird which now lies before the spaniel’s front paws, its feathers littering the ground. The spaniel, however, appears to be less interested in stealing the cat’s kill than in enjoying having cornered the furious feline, which scrabbles and hisses angrily on a tree branch. Beneath them both the broken body of the bird lies suspended by foliage over a pool of water which separates the viewer from the battle. One might read this scene as a metaphor for the struggle between civilisation and wilderness: the well-groomed, domesticated spaniel tackling a savage, leering cat. A feather of the innocent bird dangles from the cat’s claws, evidence of its crime.