Two were offered at Elstob & Elstob’s sale in Ripon on November 30 with an estimate of £1000-1500 and then spotted by the Barnard Castle museum, which already owned the others.
Until recently the whereabouts of the missing pair were unknown but the set is now complete after the museum’s successful bid of £1800 (plus 22% buyer’s premium).
Bowes was one of the greatest racehorse owners of all time who used the proceeds of his winnings to build up the world-renowned museum collection.
The two paintings bought in Ripon depict Mundig (the 1835 Derby Winner) and Cotherstone (1843 winner). Measuring just 5 x 5¼in (12.5 x 13cm), they are set within horseshoe frames that would almost certainly have come from the horses themselves.
They were sold together with a portrait of Isaac Walker, who was head groomsman at the Streatlam Stud owned by John Bowes from 1833-72. He took over this role from his father and between them they served in the position for over 70 years.
“It is remarkable that these paintings have finally come to public attention after lying unnoticed for 180 years,” said Rohan McCulloch, picture and sculpture specialist at Elstob & Elstob.
“They came from a client in Matlock, Derbyshire, who has had them in the family for as long as can be remembered. The family came originally from Weardale in County Durham – close to Barnard Castle – and the client remembers them hanging in his grandparents’ cottage in the village of Howden le Wear. His grandfather was friendly with Isaac Walker’s family, which probably explains how the paintings came to be in their hands.”
It is not known who painted the equine portraits but they are attributed to the circle of Henry Thomas Alken (1785-1851).
The two other Derby winners that complete the set are West Australian (in 1853) who became the first horse ever to win the Triple Crown (Guineas, Derby and St Leger); and Daniel O’Rourke (1852 winner), known as ‘the little horse’, who was eventually sold to the Austrian Government for 800 guineas and shipped to Vienna.
The Bowes Museum’s collection manager, Dr Jane Whittaker, said: “The two other miniatures have been part of our collection for about 34 years and it is wonderful to be able to complete the set.
“John Bowes had phenomenal success on the horseracing circuit and during his career he had four Derby winners. This is a feat matched by only five other breeders in the history of the race and exceeded only by HH Aga Khan III with five.
“Even the late Queen Elizabeth II never had a winning horse at the Epsom Derby, despite 10 attempts. Bowes earned a great fortune from his racing activities, which played a major part in funding the museum that was purpose built to house the art collection belonging to him and his wife Joséphine.”
All four paintings can now be seen on display in the museum’s John and Joséphine Bowes Story Gallery.
For more sport memorabilia read this week's feature including two Ascot Gold Cups.