“A man who fairly dwarfed Benjamin Marshall (1767-1835), Sawrey Gilpin (1733-1807), George Stubbs (1724-1806) and John Sartorius (1759-1828), and first showed the world not only how a thoroughbred horse should be drawn, but made the half bred bear his part in the pastoral scenes such as canvas had never known before” so wrote Herring’s obiturist in the Sporting Magazine November 1865, p.323, encapsulating a career painting racehorses, animal, rural, farmyard, and coaching scenes. Such a eulogy shows the enormous popularity and regard which existed for Herring’s works in his lifetime, a widespread popularity achieved as much through engravings of his works as the paintings themselves.
John Frederick Herring Snr was born in London, 12th August 1795, to a family of American Dutch extraction who had probably fled America following the War of Independence. Although he was raised in London, in 1814 he moved to Yorkshire and became a coachman on the Wakefield-Lincoln run, whilst also working as a sign and coach painter, before the generosity of a patron, Mr. Hawkesworth, allowed him to take up painting full-time. Initially, his patrons were Yorkshire landed gentry, including the Hon. Edward Petre of Stapleton Park, for whom he would paint favourite hunters and foxhounds. 1815 saw the commencement of his unsurpassed run of paintings of consecutive St. Leger winners to 1850, in addition he painted eighteen Derby winners. It is primarily for these detailed depictions of racehorses on which his reputation rests.
Having exhibited at the Royal Academy as early as 1818 and then again in 1826 and 1830, in this latter year Herring moved with his family from Doncaster to Newmarket, ‘home of the turf’, as a well-established horse painter. However, 1833 saw Herring return to London to 31 Park Street, Camberwell. Although continuing to paint racehorses, for the rest of his career he explored a wider range of subject matter appealing to a broader market, coaching scenes, farmyards and animal paintings. During these successful decades Herring received commissions from both William IV and Queen Victoria aiding his undoubted commercial success. His competitors clearly included Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, RA (1802-1873) a friend, as well as David Dalby of York (1794-1836), Harry Hall (fl.1838-1886) and John Ferneley Snr (1782-1860), but in the field of horse painting John Frederick Herring Snr reigned supreme.
Herring spent the last twelve years of his life in Meopham Park near Tonbridge, driven out of Camberwell by the reek of a nearby manure factory. Success and commissions followed him, however rural and farming subjects predominate in his later works.
Herring had a large family of eight children of which John Frederick Jnr (1815-1907), Charles (1828-1856) and Benjamin (1830-1871) were all painters.
His works can be found in museums in: London, Tate Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum and the Collection of HM The Queen.