'The Flying Childers'

Attributed to:
Spencer, Thomas (b.1700, d.1753)
Seymour, James (b.1702, d.1752)
previously attributed to John Wootton (British, b.c 1682, d.1764)
c 1725
dated to Childers' success in racing
Place of production:
London, England, United Kingdom
oil on canvas
Type of object:
Accession number:


The racehorse known as Flying Childers was one of the most successful horses of his day. Childers was painted by several artists including John Wootton, Thomas Spencer and James Seymour. This painting relates to a composition painted by both Thomas Spencer and James Seymour that differ slightly in the details such as the background riders excercising on Newmarket heath, and in the position of Childers's ears.

When this painting was acquired by Baron Ferdinand it was thought to be by Wootton, but it is unlike his signed paintings of Childers which show farm buildings behind. Seymour painted a picture of Childers with a very similar composition to the Waddesdon painting for one of his major patrons, William Jolliffe MP, of Ammerdown (Sotheby's, London, 3 April 1996, lot 155). Spencer also signed a painting that is very similar to the Waddesdon canvas (Sotheby's London, 6 June 2007, lot 335).

The style of the Waddesdon painting suggests the artist was Thomas Spencer, who may have worked from a composition developed by James Seymour. They may have worked together to satisfy the demand for portraits of this famous and celebrated racehorse.

Flying Childers was foaled in 1715, and when young was sold to the 2nd Duke of Devonshire in whose colours he raced at Newmarket in 1721, 1722 and 1723. In 1721, he was said to have run at nearly 60 miles per hour, covering around 8 metres in every bound. His name was originally The Childers, 'Flying' was added to match this reputation for speed. In 1755, a portrait by Seymour showing Childers running was engraved by Richard Houston with the title 'Childers, the Fleetest Horse that ever ran at Newmarket'.

James Seymour was one of the first English painters to specialise in sporting pictures. He did not receive any formal training but learnt from pictures that passed through his father's hands, a painting dealer, such as a head of a horse by Van Dyck. Although some thought his style to be compromised by his lack of training, many patrons preferred his work to that of Wootton. Thomas Spencer was the pupil and associate of Seymour, although he was two years older. Spencer and Seymour both collaborated with the bookseller and publisher of sporting prints, Thomas Butler. Their works were also published together by the engraver Richard Houston.

Phillippa Plock, 2012

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
975 x 1245 - sight
Signature & date:
not signed or dated
The Childers
painted at centre front of frame


Possibly owned by E Tattersall before 1890; acquired by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (b.1839, d.1898); inherited by his sister Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d.1922); inherited by her great-nephew James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); given to Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) by the Treasury Solicitor in lieu of taxes on the Estate of Mr James de Rothschild in 1963.
Exhibition history:
Possibly Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1890, lent by E. Tattershall
Waddesdon (National Trust)
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Waddesdon Manor, 1963



Ellis Waterhouse, Anthony Blunt; Paintings: The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; Fribourg; Office du Livre, The National Trust; 1967; pp. 122-123, cat. no. 49, ill.; as by Wootton

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