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Original works of art

Reuben Ward Binks
(English, 1880 -1950 )

Reuben Ward Binks was born into an agricultural family in the English town of Bolton, Lancashire and from a very early age he showed a great aptitude in the visual arts. At the age of ten, for instance, he won the Raphael Tuck Competition for his four paneled painting of flowers, and he soon went on to pursue his formal artistic education under George Perkins.

While little is known about the early development of his work, he came to specialize in animals and in particular, dogs. As he has said, "I was always a natural dog lover, and so I leaned toward and graduated into dogs. And here I've been ever since."

His love of dogs, combined with his artistic abilities, brought him in contact with many socially prominent dog fanciers, and it was Lorna, Countess of Howe who actively encouraged him in his chosen career.

The Countess of Howe commissioned Binks to do an entire series of her sporting dogs, including Labrador Retrievers and Springer Spaniels. As Binks commented in an interview with Freeman Lloyd in 1931, "Nearly all the prominent dog owners of England have given me commissions... Dr. Turton Price of Dundee, Scotland, whose 'Crombie' pointers and setters are so popular over here in America as well as elsewhere in the shooting and dog show worlds, has a large collection of my pictures. The Countess of Howe's Labrador and Springer Spaniels are her prime favorites. I must have painted scores and scores of that great sportsman's dogs."

The Countess of Howe encouraged Binks to specialize in sporting dogs, and it was undoubtedly her associations with the Royal Family that brought Binks into contact with the highest echelons of British society. His humble background was no impediment to his growing reputation as an artist, for very early in his career he was accepting royal commissions on a regular basis.
Among others, Binks completed portraits of the Prince of Wales' Cairn Terriers, Cora, John and Hamish; the Duke of York's Labrador Retriever, Glen; and the Duke of Gloucester's rough-haired Fox Terrier, Kris. Indeed, portraits of royal dogs which the artist completed during the reign of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and King George V are hung throughout the royal country residence at Sandringham, located near King's Lynn in the county of Norfolk.

Perhaps the most famous of these dogs were the Clumber Spaniels owned by King George V himself. The King was a great lover of the Clumber Spaniel, which he used for pheasant shooting on his estate at Sandringham. Binks was to visit King George V's country house at Sandringham on a regular basis, and portraits of his sporting dogs as well as his household pets were completed, including the well known Fox Terrier, Jack, as well as Pomeranians, Pekingese and Basset Hounds owned by Queen Alexandra and the young Princess Victoria.

Binks' skill as a dog and animal artist was to earn him international renown among animal lovers, and he traveled to such far flung locations as India and North America to complete commissions. In one of several visits to India, for instance, he spent more than eight months in residence painting the gun dogs of the Maharajah Dhiraj of Patiala. The Palace of Patiala, more than 1,500 miles from Bombay, was home to over 150 dogs, including Labrador Retrievers, Springer Spaniels, Cocker Spaniels and West Highland White Terriers. As Binks pointed out during an interview in 1932, "His Highness the Maharajah Dhiraj of Patiala is one of the greatest and most influential sportsmen of our times. He is a great dog owner and supports spaniel and retriever field trials, also dog shows in Europe, as well as India."

Binks was also to travel twice to America, and while there completed commissions for several prominent dog fanciers, among them, Mrs. Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge. The artist painted over 200 portraits of her many champion dogs. Mrs. Dodge, a name which for many dog fanciers is synonymous with a more elegant, relaxed era of dog showing, was best known for her great interest in German Shepherds and English Cocker Spaniels, but she had many different breeds in her kennels in Madison, New Jersey.

The favorite niece of the great American oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, Mrs. Dodge had married the Remington arms heir Marcellus Hartley Dodge, and settled in Madison to establish Hartley Farms, a vast complex of hundreds of acres. The estate boasted beautifully landscaped grounds and extensive kennel buildings which were custom designed for the comfort of the couple's many dogs. During a period when America was in a serious economic depression, Mrs. Dodge maintained an extensive property, and employed over sixty-five full-time staff.

Mrs. Dodge's interest in dogs had developed early on, for as a child she was known for picking up strays in Central Park and bringing them back to the Rockefeller family's home on New York's Fifth Avenue. As she grew older her interest turned to the world of pure-bred dogs. During her lifetime she was to own more than 85 different breeds of dogs, producing innumerable champions of the show ring. And while Mrs. Dodge had many favorite dogs, the English Cocker Spaniel and the German Shepherd dog were clearly her favorite breeds.

During one of her many visits to England, her eye had been caught by the English Cocker and she immediately purchased three to bring back to America. During 1935 and 1939 she was to import 23 English Cocker Spaniels and her interest in them accelerated. Relatively new to America, the English Cocker was only recognized by the American Kennel Club as a separate variety of the Cocker Spaniel in 1936, and it was due to Mrs. Dodge's determination that it was finally recognized as a separate breed in 1946. Mrs. Dodge decided that extensive research was required to untangle the interbreeding that had been going on between English and American Cockers, so with the help of her research assistant Josephine Z. Rine, she wrote and published the exhaustive book, The English Cocker Spaniel in America. It was as a direct result of this book that the breed was recognized as separate and distinct from the American Cocker.

Perhaps for different reasons, Mrs. Dodge was also to publish a very extensive book on the German Shepherd Dog. Her devotion to the breed and her activity in the show ring helped to establish the German Shepherd in conformation shows. Indeed she went so far as to invite the recognized expert in the world, Captain Max Stephanitz to judge the Morris and Essex dog show. Her book The German Shepherd Dog in America, which was to become the recognized text on the breed, was published in 1956.

Mrs. Dodge had purchased her first German Shepherd shortly after her marriage to Marcellus Hartley Dodge, and her affection for the breed was to increase. Her devotion is perhaps best shown by the great number of German Shepherds which Ward Binks was to depict when he visited her kennels. She imported the very best dogs she could find, paying particular attention to soundness and temperament.

Mrs. Dodge's love for animals and pure-bred dogs is legendary, but her passion was the development and breeding of pure-bred dogs. It seemed appropriate, therefore, that she would have commissioned one of England's most prominent animal painters to execute portraits of her champion specimens. Mr. Binks was to stay at Giralda Farm for almost two years.

Bink's was essentially an illustrator, and his work is of great historic importance in chronicling important show dogs of the early twentieth century. While he worked in both opaque and transparent watercolor, he is best known for his work in the former, and most of his dog portraits were executed in gouache. The great majority of Binks' dog paintings are of the pure-bred dog type, with the dog posed, facing left, to show off the salient features of the breed.

Binks' only exhibition in America during his lifetime was held at the Harlow and Macdonald Galleries in December of 1931. Here he exhibited over eighty originals, and one assumes, the prints which he had begun publishing through Arthur A. Greatorex of London.

 

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