Independent charity The Art Fund
today announces that Nantwich Museum has successfully acquired an 18th century oil painting with local ties. The painting, entitled Mr Walsh's Perdita, with jockey up, on Nantwich Racecourse (1781) depicts a horse on Nantwich Racecourse and is by British artist Benjamin Killingbeck who specialised in painting horses and dogs.
The painting came up for auction at Christies in London and the Museum had to act quickly to secure sufficient funding to enable them to bid. Grants were awarded by the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, which gave £3,750, and The Art Fund, the UKs leading independent art charity, which contributed £1,797. Nantwich Town Council provided £500. With funding in place the Museum was able to bid and was successful in purchasing the painting for well below estimate at £7,500.
Anne Wheeler, Curator of the Nantwich Museum, said: "This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for Nantwich and we had to pull out all the stops to try and bring this superb painting back home. It is the only known painting of Nantwich races and as such we felt it imperative that it should come back to the town and be displayed in the Museum where the people of Nantwich and visitors to the town can all enjoy it and learn about a little-known aspect of the towns heritage."
Andrew Macdonald, Acting Director of The Art Fund, said: "With its bold yet pared down style and muted tones, this painting captures the mood of a typical English day at the races, and is a wonderful scoop for Nantwich, where it will shed light on the towns hidden past and showcase the style and sporting subject matter of 18th century artist Benjamin Killingbeck."
Janet Davies from the MLA /V&A Purchase Grant Fund said: "We were delighted to help the Museum in its bid for this work which is perfect for the collection: an attractive painting but also an informative record of Nantwich history."
The Nantwich Races were held for a few days every summer from 1729 to 1824 and were an important part of the towns social calendar. The racecourse was on Beam Heath land in Alvaston and was particularly popular with County Gentlemen who travelled to Nantwich and stayed overnight in the town. The racecourse was ploughed up in 1824 and sadly no evidence of it remains. Many people have no idea that there was ever a racecourse in Nantwich.