Showstopper Headlines Cross Gate Gallery’s 10th Sporting Art Auction Friday at Keeneland

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The magnificent painting “Going Out Epsom,” by British artist Sir Alfred J. Munnings, is one of the most important pieces of sporting art that has been sold in the past 25-30 years. (All images courtesy of Cross Gate Gallery)

Friday, Nov. 18 is the 10th anniversary of the Sporting Art Auction, which is a collaboration between Keeneland Association and Cross Gate Gallery in Lexington, Ky. Every year Greg Ladd and his staff travel the world seeking fine examples of sporting art from both new and established painters and sculptors.  A portion of the auction proceeds benefit Keeneland’s nonprofit initiatives, which includes the Keeneland Library Foundation. 

This year’s auction features a real showstopper. It is the magnificent painting titled “Going Out Epsom,” by British artist Sir Alfred J. Munnings. He meticulously planned his paintings. He would often bring his own horses and grooms to the track (when not in session) to sketch them, including his handyman Rudge to pose as a jockey. It has the potential of selling for $3 million to $5 million. Cross Gate Gallery founder Greg Ladd is effusive. “Of all the 20th Century sporting art painters, he was the man! He was a wonderful painter. It’s the most important racing picture that has been sold in the past 25-30 years.”

"The Grey," by Diana Tremaine

Montana artist Diana Tremaine’s stunning painting of a regal grey horse is featured on the cover of Keeneland Magazine - Winter 2022. An experienced equine artist, she is attuned to horses’ personalities and explained how she sought to capture the moment. “ ‘The Grey’ stands alert, listening to/witnessing/responding to something well beyond our awareness. In painting her subtle tones, I sought to find the right combination of warm and cool violets, greys, yellows, and browns to activate her quiet, yet ready pose. As with all my work, I strove to allow the variety of marks and paint — opaque verses transparent, bold verses refined — tell the story of the mystery and power inherent in these magnificent creatures.” Tremaine grew up in New York City and was influenced by her aunt and uncle’s art collection that included Andy Warhol, Joan Miro, Piet Mondrian, and Wassily Kandinsky.

Water colorist Sandra Oppegard says that “her most favorite pieces are in this year’s auction.” Greg Ladd said, “We have two pieces. One is called ‘Toward the Gap’ and the other is called ‘Turf Racing on the Backstretch.’ It’s a really nice piece. As soon as she brought it in, I said ‘Let’s hang onto this for the auction. The piece is larger than she usually works. All the drawing, the use of watercolor, the light, the dark, it’s all incorporated into this piece. I just love it!” Oppegard said that it’s fun to attend the auction in person. “I get a bourbon [to calm my nerves] and watch with friends. It’s fun watching the others but nerve-racking, especially when it gets down to your piece.”  

The auction also features a wonderful array of farm animals. This year features cats and kittens, pigs, ducks, lop-eared rabbits, ducks, pigeons, and dogs. Kentucky native Suzy Smith grew up riding horses on a Thoroughbred farm and began drawing dogs and horses as a child. “Pointer” and “Black Lab” are her two paintings. “To be a part of the Sporting Art Auction means different things to me. The challenge always on my mind takes the form of a question. Is my work good enough to submit for consideration? It’s a feeling of being nervous about seeing your art as part of an incredibly fantastic auction coupled with the happiness of being there.”

“Dittisham Lady 22,” by Nick Bibby

There is the MOST delightful and adorable Berkshire pig sculpture by Nick Bibby. She is known as “Dittisham Lady 22.” Bibby visited pig breeder Sue Fildes with the intention of sculpting one of her champions. Unfortunately, she was no longer in show condition. Then he noticed the sow’s daughter. “There was no doubting her quality. Lady 22 was a delightful, perky little pig: full of energy. I sculpted her as I had seen her — head up, tail held high, hot on the trail of something tasty! I chose a patina matching her markings — glossy black with creamy white face, feet, and tail tip: and a nice pink nose.” Bibby is self-taught and is acknowledged as one of England’s finest animal sculptures.   

Artist Jaime Corum describes a horse from her past with such detail that any equestrian immediately knows what she is talking about! “Visa was a giant among my earliest memories of exceptional horses. He made a deep impact on me when I first started riding at age 12. A copper-penny chestnut with plenty of chrome, Visa was my trainer’s horse and I idolized him completely. Athletic and handsome, Visa was an old-school type of Thoroughbred, long and lean, 17 hands tall. I remember he had a walk like a Jaguar, and floating gaits all around making those lucky enough to sit on him seem like something royal and a little bit sexy. Most of all, I remember his intelligent eye, which often took that imperious look seen in horses who know their worth and only deign to cooperate with their humans because it pleases them.” 

This is the first year that the auction is presenting a photograph. “The Prayer” was shot by British photographer David Sinclair in 2015 for the Amarillo Globe-Times. The black-and-white photo is a powerful overhead shot seconds before a bucking bronco leaves its stall. Taken at the Working Ranch Cowboys Association (WRCA) Finals, there are four men praying over the horse and rider with their hats off, heads bowed, and hands extended. There was only enough time for Sinclair to shoot one frame. A perfect example of a picture being worth a thousand words.

“2022 Breeders’ Cup, Keeneland Race Course,” by Andre Pater

Auction favorite, Lexington resident Andre Pater has three paintings, including one that was part of the 2022 Breeders’ Cup World Championship official artwork. “2022 Breeders’ Cup, Keeneland Race Course” was displayed on the official track program and captures Keeneland’s glorious iconic paddock and its grand sycamore tree in stunning light. 

British artist Peter Howell was introduced to racing at an early age. He chose a racing career at first (working for trainers and riding) but realized that he was meant for an art career. His painting “Deauville, Exercise by the Sea” captures the early morning sunlight as it glistens on the water while a group of horses and riders exercise. It’s a perfect example of why Howell is so popular. He draws inspiration from French Impressionists Claude Monet and Edgar Degas.

Posture,” by Ukrainian artist Serhiy Hai is one of the most dramatic pieces. With the bold use of reds, oranges, blues, purple, and black, Hai depicts a jockey with ramrod-straight posture, which is mirrored by the stance of his horse. Hai was sponsored by Cross Gate Gallery as an artist in residence. He is currently back in Ukraine. Liz McNeil, from Quinn Public Relations, relayed that Hai had to smuggle his painting out of Ukraine into Poland for it to appear in this year’s auction.  “In my work approach, I can only paint what gives me a strong emotional impulse,” Hai said. “The riders are those who still remain interesting and challenging for creativity. The painting ‘Posture’ is built of large color spots, where the red color acquires a special, solemn sound. I deliberately simplify the forms to achieve the greatest expression, which is common to artists, who have always serviced as an example for me.”  

One-hundred and eighty pieces of art are featured this year. They represent an astonishing global community of immense talent unified by the love of sporting art. It speaks for a year’s work of acquisitions by Greg Ladd and the Cross Gate Gallery staff.  Special mention goes to Field Ladd and Bill Meng. If you can, get your hands on the catalog. They have captured so much of racing’s history in their descriptions. It’s well worth reading! And, it’s a real page turner!   

The Sporting Art Auction Sale No. 10

Friday, Nov, 18 at 4 p.m. ET

Keeneland Sales Pavilion in Lexington, Ky.

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