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My Favourite Painting for Country Life Magazine – The Straw Ride

My favourite section of the Country Life magazine is ‘My Favourite Painting’. I was touched to be asked to submit my own favourite painting and thought long and hard about it.

It is an almost impossible task to pick a favourite painting…it’s like asking which Firmdale Hotel is my favourite, or my favourite dog…or child!

Perhaps I was influenced by the fact I had just been for a blustery ride on my trusty old horse in the New Forest, but I settled on ‘The Straw Ride’ by Lucy Kemp-Welch, painted in 1915.

I remember visiting an exhibition of her work to celebrate one of the greatest British horse painters, at the St Barbe Museum in Lymington in 1999 and my imagination was captured by every composition, being technically brilliant and full of energy.

‘The Straw Ride’ depicts women working on the homefront during the First World War at Russley Park Remount Depot in Wiltshire. It is an oil painting of three women exercising horses. Each woman rides one horse and leads another. They are putting their horses through their paces in an indoor straw ride. You can see the outline of the doorway of the barn and you can almost hear the horses snorting and blowing and the thudding of their hooves kicking up dusty straw.

It captures the impulsion and exuberance of the mounts as they leap and bound, ridden by mere slips of girls in headscarves with their sleeves rolled up. I just love the romance and working simplicity of this painting, the calmness of the riders and the raw power and energy of the horses.

This oil painting is in the Imperial War Museum. Lucy Kemp Welch was commissioned to paint a series of paintings of women and other horse related aspects of military service during World War I. Her work is often compared to Munnings, however, his subject matter is much more society-focused. It is clear that her paintings are a result of observing from life.

Kemp Welch went on to become one of the two founding women to join the Royal Society of British Artists. I am proud to own one of her paintings called ‘Ploughing on the South Coast’, which I chose to display in Ham Yard Hotel’s Library.

It seems fitting that Kemp-Welch was also famous for the first illustration on the 1915 cover of Black Beauty written by Anna Sewell, an interesting connection to the female literary tradition which ties in with other pieces in the room.

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