My Favourite Painting: Michael Clayton

'I have seen foxes “mocked” in this way by birds; it symbolises just how tough nature can be'

The Mockers, 1925, by Lionel Edwards (1878–1966), Private Collection

Michael Clayton says: ‘This evocative work shows rooks mobbing a fox in a superb Leicestershire hunting landscape. It is somewhat untypical of Edwards because the hounds and the field are merely tiny dots far away, but it evokes the terrain and its sky in winter in a wonderfully effective manner. Edwards was a very good landscape painter, superior to many other sporting artists, and this work gives full rein to his talent. Having ridden over this landscape in similar conditions for more than 50 years, I find it especially appealing. I have seen foxes “mocked” in this way by birds; it symbolises just how tough nature can be.’

Michael Clayton is the former editor of Horse & Hound and an author of more than a dozen books on hunting, including Foxhunting in Paradise (1993), a history of the sport in Leicestershire

John McEwen comments:

‘Lionel Dalhousie Robertson Edward s was born in Clifton, the son of a doctor. He was only seven when his father died, but it was from him that he inherited a love of hunting. His talent for art, evident from an early age, came from his mother’s side of the family, his grandmother a pupil of George Romney.

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The Times obituarist wrote: ‘He was in the older tradition of representing sport from the inside… his remarkable “eye for country” was that of a man who sees the landscape from the saddle.’ Edwards’s boyhood was spent on a small country estate at Benarth in Conway, North Wales.

Private education, a London pupillage with A. S. Cope RA, the portrait painter, then stints at the Heatherley School of Fine Art and Frank Calderon’s School of Animal Painting rapidly bore fruit: at 19, he became the youngest member of the London Sketch Club. He married Ethel Wells, another keen foxhunter, and, after the First World War, they settled at Buckholt, Hampshire.

This view of Leicestershire, where the Quorn, Cottesmore, Belvoir, Pytchley, Fernie and Atherstone share the spoils, celebrates Nimrod’s opinion, approvingly quoted by Edwards, that ‘both nature and art have contributed to make Leicestershire the county for fox-hunting’. Edwards noted that agriculture ‘has supplied well-drained land and negotiable fences, while art has placed foxcovers at nice distances apart’.
This picture hints at spring, with its suggestion of rooks nesting.

It is based on Edwards’s meticulous yet spirited on-the-spot pencil sketches. His preferred medium for painting was watercolour, in this case water-soluble gouache. He worked to the end, dying of a stroke at home.’