The Cricket Match by Edward Duncan RWS

Monday, 18 September 2023 - Friday, 22 September 2023

17 Duke Street St. James's
London SW1Y 6DB United Kingdom

Edward Duncan has chosen to paint on a large, pinewood panel. Some artists had become accustomed to painting on wood, despite the repeal in 1831 of the tax that had been charged on artist’s canvas, and panel gessoed with a blend of rabbit glue and powdered chalk gave the artist an even, opaque surface on which to work.

The painting had remained in the same family for over a century and, as a result, over the years the varnish had discoloured owing to age, the abortion of grime, soot, tobacco smoke and atmospheric pollution. In point of fact, the painting had at least four layers of varnish, each applied over the previous coat, sealing in a generation of discoloration and grime on each occasion. By careful removal of the layers of old varnish, the painting and pigments were restored to the artist’s original vision of how the painting would be viewed.

The painting is dated ’39, and it was on 22nd June 1850 that the wood engraving of this subject was published in "The Illustrated London News", for which Duncan was a regular contributor. The illustration of our painting as it appears in the paper is described as:

“Kent has ever ranked first among our counties for its cricketers; and from one of its noblest domains has our artist pictured the game in the accompanying illustration”.

The location remains something of a mystery. Despite the description, Hambledon has been suggested given the nature of the surrounding landscape, as has been Canterbury with its lime tree within the confines of the ground, sadly no longer there. Another suggestion is West Malling, also in Kent, where Town Malling played, the club for which the renowned Fuller Pilch played, now known as the Old County Ground.

There are a number of discrepancies between the painting and engraving, the most notable being the addition of a church spire, possibly to reinforce the narrative that the subject is a ground in Kent, and alluding to the fact that it is perhaps Canterbury, or West Malling, the latter village having a church with a similar spire.

In this work Duncan has depicted a match at a seminal moment, the batsman facing a bowler, bowling roundarm, at the point of delivery his hand below the level of his shoulder, the batsman in position to execute a stroke known as ‘the home block’. The fielders are alert, dressed in trousers, fashionable from the mid-1830’s, but denounced by some as ‘unbecoming and inconvenient’. In his rendering of the wicket with three stumps and a bail, the artist’s alterations can be seen in the ‘pentimenti’, the vague outline of his original positioning of the stumps subsequently corrected to align with the far wicket. There is a fair-sized crowd assembled beneath the two commanding oaks and around the marquee, a common sight at matches, refreshments and gaming for the gentry. The portrayal of the mass of figures resembles Duncan’s rendering of crowds in his ‘The Laying of a Foundation Stone, Birkenhead Docks, Wirral’, 1845 (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool).

No preparatory sketches for this work are recorded; however, in one of the three sales at Christies of Edward Duncan’s estate, on 11th March 1885, several albums were sold that included sketches for works for The Illustrated London News.

Edward Duncan RWS (1803 - 1882)
The village cricket match in Kent
Inscribed twice ‘39
Oil on panel
17 x 28 in – 43.2 x 71.1 cm
Frame size: 23 x 34 in – 58.4 x 86.4 cm
Provenance: Private collection, UK, since pre-1920; Private collection, UK
Literature: The Illustrated London News, 22 June 1850, p.442, illustrated p.441

Derek Birley: A Social History of English Cricket, published Aurum 1999
H.S. Altham and E.W. Swanton: A History of Cricket, published George Allen and Unwin, 1926