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Pointer painting to cause a 'sensation' at Bonhams New York
John Martin Tracy (American, 1843-1893), Haunt of the woodcock: Sensation and Bang Bang. oil on canvas, 30 x 50in. (76 x 127cm.). Estimate: US$100,000-150,000. Photo: Bonhams.

NEW YORK, NY.- On 12th February the eagerly awaited annual Dogs in Show & Field sale will take place at Bonhams Madison Avenue galleries.

Among the sale highlights is Haunt of the woodcock: Sensation and Bang Bang by John Martin Tracy (1843-1923). This 1886 masterpiece depicts two of the most famous Pointers in American breeding history. The painting is expected to sell for $100,000-$150,000.

All pedigree Pointers in America are descended from the two dogs pictured, Sensation (left) and Bang Bang (right). Both were highly successful trial dogs who were shipped to New York from England by the Westminster Kennel Club in 1870s to provide a cornerstone of the Pointer breed in America where they were offered for stud at $50 – a price equivalent to over $1,000 today.

In its early days, the Westminster Kennel club was made up by a group of society sporting men who gathered in the bar of the Westminster Hotel in Manhattan to discuss the prowess of their dogs and their shooting exploits. The resulting club, named after the group’s favourite meeting place, was founded in the 1870s with the aim of improving the Pointer breed in the United States. In 1876, the club commissioned one of its members to travel to England to find a Pointer which the club members could use for breeding. Shortly after, a lemon and white Pointer dog named ‘Don’, with a particularly fine head, boarded a ship to America and was registered under the name Sensation.

‘Don’ was a prize winning show dog born in 1874 to a Shropshire based breeder and descended from Hamlet, one of the most important stud dogs of the breed. Bang Bang, also bred in England, had an impressive lineage and descended also from the famous Pointer Hamlet.

Now named Sensation, he continued to win prizes in America, however his show career was limited by his principal role – to strengthen the Pointer breed as a stud dog. Sensation was depicted by numerous artists, but this work by John Martin Tracy is the defining image. This image of Sensation ‘in point’ has been the basis of the logo of the Westminster Kennel Club since 1877.

Sensation died at the grand age of 13 and now lies at the club’s headquarters alongside other famous Pointers and under a flagpole topped with a weather vane in the form of a Pointer, always to point into the wind.

John Martin Tracy (1843-1923) was born in Ohio to abolitionist parents. Tracy enlisted as a volunteer during the Civil War and it was there that he decided to make art his livelihood. He saved to attend the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and influences of the Barbizon School, a movement of artists towards realism, is clear in his work.

Haunt of the woodcock: Sensation and Bang Bang, was painted when Tracy was at the height of his powers. His talent for capturing characteristic poses and his evocative landscapes made him the leading American sporting artist of his day. The work is a brilliant record of the famous subjects as well as an important painting in its own right. A premature death and the rarity of Tracy’s paintings make him an elusive figure but one whose work is still highly prized.

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