Tim Koch is a little tired after a very good lunch at Fishmongers’ Hall following the Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race yesterday. In lieu of an immediate race report, here is something that he prepared earlier.
On 15 July, Sotheby’s Auction House in London sold an oil painting titled The Finish of the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race at Mortlake by James Baylis Allan (1803-1896). They had wisely contacted Chris Dodd at the River and Rowing Museum for assistance with the catalogue notes and I presume it was Chris who suggested that the picture probably depicts the race of 1867, which Oxford won by half a length. The painting is a somewhat romanticised view of the day but is none the worse for that as it captures well the spirt of the occasion – which I imagine is much the same today as it was then. The majority of spectators who go down to the riverbank to see the race in person have always done so simply for ‘a grand day out’ as they have no connection with either rowing or to Oxford or Cambridge. Strangely though, it has always been such people who have been among some of the most passionate supporters of one crew or another and of Boat Race Day in general.
The camera (allegedly) never lies and while the above view of the Boat Race finish of 2013 lacks the romance of Allan’s painting, it still conveys some of the drama. The one point of reference in both pictures is the ‘Ship’ pub on the far right, an unchanging landmark. I took the photograph standing on Chiswick Bridge, but this was not an option that Allan would have had as it was only built in 1933. To spite my higher vantage point, I still could not see Barnes Bridge from the finish and I think it is safe to say that Allan used a lot of ‘artistic licence’ in his picture.
Moving on to another image, I am very fond of the above painting which forms part of the War Memorial at Thames Rowing Club. The HTBS post on this shows the memorial in place before the recent and excellent renovations at Thames. HTBS editor Göran Buckhorn found a reference to the picture in a 1900 edition of The Art Journal:
If only for the freshness of subject, the freshness of observation, Mr. Hugh Riviere’s In The Golden Days […] is welcome. The play of sunlight on the faces of the Magdalen eight, being coached on the Upper Thames, the sense of movement, a further claim to attention.
I have had In The Golden Days as the desktop picture on my computer for a long time and have never grown tired of it. Thus, I was very interested to come across another rowing picture by Rivière, though unfortunately only as a black and white double page illustration in a 1903 edition of The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News.
The only clue to the crew’s identity in this monochrome picture is on the coxswain’s cap which looks like it has the three lilies of Magdalen College, Oxford. I contacted Magdalen’s rowing historian, Mark Blandford-Baker, and received this reply:
I agree the cox’s cap looks like a Magdalen First VIII cap (and therefore the blazer ditto) – red. The zephyrs could be first boat though the varying number of bands on the sleeves is a little odd – but perhaps no more so than the variety of kit a modern crew in training might wear. The oars appear to be plain (undecorated) which would be right for Magdalen at that period.
Thus the ‘Iffley’ picture probably showed a Magdalen crew and the Art Journal review claimed that the ‘Golden Days’ painting was also featured Magdalen men – but I had always thought that the picture in Thames Rowing Club showed a Thames crew. An e-mail from the club secretary, James Elder, supplied the answer:
…. if one looks at Thames Rowing Club’s painting closely, it was plainly touched up to turn the stripe on some of the oarsmen’s zephyrs into a Thames one. I think it was only acquired by TRC after World War One, to form the centrepiece of the war memorial. My suspicion is that it did originally depict Magdalen (Oxford) but at the time of TRC’s acquisition, it was touched up to turn it into a Thames / Cambridge composite crew. Why it was made TRC / CUBC rather than simply TRC I’m not sure, although I think that around that time the club had closer links to Cambridge than Oxford.
Thus, Rivière clearly had some kind of Magdalen connection. The question for HTBS readers is: Where is the original painting of At Iffley or is there, at least, a colour picture in existence?