Open­ing shots

Hor­sham Mu­seum and Art Gallery is of­fer­ing a timely re­minder of a lo­cal son and a man of the coun­try­side, as Janet Men­zies ex­plains

The Field - - Contents -

When the fi­nal bat­tle to save hunt­ing was be­ing lost, one of the great­est prob­lems for hunters was that we were fight­ing for a con­cept so van­ish­ingly spir­i­tual that it couldn’t be ar­tic­u­lated. If only the hunt­ing artist, Ge­of­frey Spar­row, had still been alive it would have been eas­ier. But he died in 1969, and Hor­sham Mu­seum and Art Gallery is mark­ing 50 years since then with a ma­jor ret­ro­spec­tive ex­hi­bi­tion of his work and life.

Spar­row, born in 1887, was a true Corinthian sports­man. He was a coun­try doc­tor in Hor­sham be­fore the ar­rival of the M25. In the First World War he was dec­o­rated with the Mil­i­tary Cross. He served again in the Sec­ond World War, aged 53, and again re­ceived the Mil­i­tary Cross. Like most hunt­ing folk, Spar­row rarely took him­self se­ri­ously. Hav­ing stud­ied at Cam­bridge Univer­sity and St Bartholomew’s Hos­pi­tal, Lon­don, he ex­plained: “Some­thing had to be cho­sen… I was of­fered the law, medicine or the Church: didn’t like an un­cle who was a so­lic­i­tor, so that was out; our par­son was rather stout and greasy and preached long and dull ser­mons, and away with that, so there re­mained medicine.”

He sketched and painted un­ceas­ingly through­out his life, even dur­ing the First World War, and his di­aries and ac­count of the war, On Four Fronts with the Royal Naval Di­vi­sion, are lit­tered with draw­ings and car­toons. His full-scale works con­cen­trate on hunt­ing and coun­try scenes painted from an in­sider’s per­spec­tive – lively, fluid and, above all, authen­tic. Jeremy Knight, Hor­sham Mu­seum & Her­itage Of­fi­cer, thinks Spar­row’s gen­uine en­gage­ment with Hor­sham life is an im­por­tant rea­son for ex­hibit­ing him. “Spar­row came here in 1919 and he was widely in­flu­en­tial and well­re­spected in the town. Hor­sham’s mu­seum and art gallery was founded 125 years ago with a mis­sion to col­lect lo­cal ma­te­rial that re­flected the area’s cul­ture, her­itage and tra­di­tions. Spar­row’s work gen­uinely cap­tures what life was like in the town in his time.”

Com­ment­ing on the en­thu­si­as­tic com­mu­nity sup­port for the ex­hi­bi­tion, Knight ex­plains: “The group of peo­ple who are anti-fox­hunt­ing find any such im­agery like Spar­row’s to be ab­hor­rent but every­body else sees his paint­ings for what they are, and the com­mu­nity has a lot of nos­tal­gia and warmth for them. We are re­ceiv­ing so many con­tri­bu­tions for the ex­hi­bi­tion – com­ing from as far as Spain and as near as the at­tic of one of our vol­un­teers. Spar­row re­tired from med­i­cal prac­tice in 1948 and there are still many lo­cal sto­ries of him. He would ride up to a home visit, hitch up his horse, per­form a de­liv­ery or take a blood pres­sure, then mount up and ride off again.

“Hor­sham in the 1920s and ’30s was a mar­ket town that still saw it­self as a ru­ral com­mu­nity. The Craw­ley and Hor­sham Hunt used to meet in the town cen­tre and the hunt still has foot fol­low­ers lo­cally known as the Ge­of­frey Spar­row Club. Although Spar­row’s paint­ings are re­lated to hunt­ing, really they are scenes of ev­ery­day peo­ple go­ing about their lives in Hor­sham. He picked out the hu­man idio­syn­cra­sies of ev­ery­day life. His work has great warmth and hu­mour. He would do a sketch for a child of a hedge­hog do­ing the clean­ing, or he would por­tray the cricket green­keeper.”

Knight points out that Spar­row is really in the tra­di­tion of great car­i­ca­tur­ists such as Row­land­son and Hog­a­rth: “Like Hog­a­rth, Spar­row’s work would of­ten fea­ture a dog, which was al­ways do­ing some­thing it shouldn’t be do­ing. Spar­row was light­hearted though – very ac­cept­ing of hu­man life and, in a way, al­most prais­ing it.”

Spar­row went through many life ex­pe­ri­ences, from the trenches to the surgery, and his work re­flects that, with a multi-lay­ered, in­clu­sive ap­proach to what he saw around him. As the Hor­sham ex­hi­bi­tion shows, hunt­ing was deeply wo­ven into the tex­ture of ev­ery­day ru­ral life, not just a bit of elit­ist fun. now hunt­ing is lost from the scene Spar­row painted. In­sid­i­ously, many more el­e­ments of that can­vas are blank­ing out: the wider spec­trum of com­mu­nity; the open­ness of coun­try­side; the sense of tol­er­ance for all; the joy of ec­cen­tric­ity. Spar­row’s life and work sums up the hunt­ing ethos of so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity

He picked out the hu­man idio­syn­cra­sies of ev­ery­day life with warmth and hu­mour

be­ing a vi­tal part of a sport­ing life well lived. In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Foxes and Physic, Spar­row wrote: “I be­came thor­oughly soaked in the tra­di­tion of fox hunt­ing and have al­ways held old Jor­rocks’ opin­ion that all time not spent in hunt­ing is wasted.” Luck­ily for us he “wasted” a good deal of his time be­ing heroic; look­ing af­ter other peo­ple; paint­ing won­der­ful pic­tures; and gen­er­ally en­hanc­ing life.

To find out about Hor­sham Mu­seum and Art Gallery’s col­lec­tion of pic­tures by Dr Ge­of­frey Spar­row, and its forth­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion, call 01403 254959 or go to: www.hor­sham­mu­seum.org

Clock­wise from left: The Lit­tle Man at Row­land Ward’s; Now hastes the whip­per into the other side of the covert; Craw­ley & Hor­sham Car­fax Meet ’48; Danc­ing sun and shadow in Free­mans Gorse;ECH Dor­ney Com­mon 1957

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