John Frederick Herring, Senior
The Posting Inn: a change of horses waiting on a road with a mail coach approaching
Private Collection, UK.
Newcastle, Laing Art Gallery, on loan c. 1976 – 2000.
The Posting Inn dates to the height of the “Golden Age of Coaching” in England, during which time coaches became the dominant form of travel throughout the country. Competition and rivalry amongst mail coaches was at its peak, leading to an elevated degree of speed and efficiency along the postal routes. Posting inns served as way stations along these routes, allowing mail coaches to pick up fresh horses in a matter of minutes and continue on their journey. Herring’s composition depicts the moment just before this change over, with the horses waiting in the foreground and the coach approaching from the distance. Herring has chosen a unique subject, emphasising the anticipation of the waiting horses instead of the arrival of the mail coach. The play of light and the multiple views of the horses are typical of Herring’s style. He captures the liveliness of the scene, imbuing the horses with a sense of movement and excitement that is very much indicative of the atmosphere of the Coaching Age.
Herring was enormously successful in his lifetime and ranks with Sir Edwin Landseer as one of the greatest animal painters of the mid-nineteenth century. A prolific artist, his subjects included hunting, racing, shooting and farmyard scenes. Herring began his artistic career as an assistant to a painter of coach insignia and inn signs in Doncaster and was soon employed as a coach driver. In his spare time, he painted portraits of horses for inn parlours, where his skills were quickly recognised by local owners of hunting and racing horses. In 1830, he moved to Newmarket, where he may have been instructed by English animal and battle painter Abraham Cooper (1787 – 1868), before embarking on a successful career as an artist in London. He painted eighteen Derby winners and thirty-three successive winners of the St. Leger and exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1818, the British Institution, and the Royal Society of British Artists. In 1845, he was appointed Animal Painter to H.R.H. the Duchess of Kent. He later received a commission from Queen Victoria, who remained a patron for the rest of his life. Herring’s works hang in The Tate Gallery, London; The Victoria and Albert Museum, London; The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; The National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, and in many well-known English and American private collections.