Portrait of the Thoroughbred Kentucky
Artist: Edward Troye, 1808-1874
Oil on canvas
31” x 38¾” image size (38” x 45¾” frame size)
Ref. No. 070320_002
This oil, on relined canvas, is in its original frame signed E. Troye to viewers lower left. Both frame and painting are in a remarkable state of preservation.
The thoroughbred Kentucky, born 1861, was sired by Lexington out of Magnolia. Magnolia was a gift to Henry Clay, later owned by his son J. M. Clay who bred her to William Atkinson Alexander’s (Woodburn Farm) famed stallion Lexington.
J. M. Clay sold Kentucky to John Hunter in 1863 for $6,000 after winning a one-mile stakes race in Patterson, New Jersey. Kentucky goes on to win 21 of 22 starts in his career with a loss to his half-brother Norfolk at the Jersey Derby in Paterson on June 6th 1864 where he finished the mile heat in fourth place. Prior to the race, Kentucky’s preliminary workout was twice suspended indicating he may have been off that day. Sometime later, Hunter partnered ownership of Kentucky with William Travers and John Osgood. In 1866, after winning the Inaugural Stakes at Jerome Park in New York, this partnership sold Kentucky to Leonard Walter Jerome for $40,000.
Troye, en route to Jerome Park from Kentucky honoring a commission to paint the thoroughbred for each of the owners, learns upon arrival that they have sold the horse. This unsettling news was quickly remedied by the new owner, Jerome, who commissioned four portraits of the horse to be distributed among the previous owners and himself. Jerome’s Kentucky portrait was reproduced in 1867 as an aquatint by Goupil & Cie of Paris for M. Knoedler of New York. The original oil painting’s whereabouts (if it still exists) is unknown. A portrait of Kentucky in a stall is at the collection of the National Sporting Library in Virginia. The other portrait in the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale University is similar to the painting seen here but the horse facing opposite.
This portrait of Kentucky (the largest of the four) with the Passaic River in the background thought to have been presented to John Hunter was immediately placed on exhibition at Turf Field and Farm where Sanders Bruce (co-founder of the American Stud Book and editor of the weekly sporting newspaper Turf Field and Farm), proclaimed “The best, in our opinion, of the series of portraits of Kentucky by Troye, is now on exhibition in our offices.” He later states “Unquestionably it is the greatest work to ever come from the easel of Troye.” The verbose Bruce was no stranger to the equine world or Troye, later authoring the artist’s obituary in 1874 for his newspaper.*
Kentucky, a well-formed horse, was painted as a five year old—mature yet fit without signs of age. This aspect coupled with an unusually fine state of preservation for this artist, good size, a masterful execution by Troye, and importance of subject, converge to rank this painting among Troye’s best.
International Museum of the Horse, Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington, Kentucky, 1998 – 2006.
Edward Troye, Anne Wright Wilson Fine Arts Building, Georgetown College, Georgetown, Kentucky, July 13 – August 31, 2003. See catalog, p.19.
Kentucky Bloodlines: The Legacy of Henry Clay, Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate, Lexington, Kentucky, April 1 – October 30, 2005.See catalog, p. 47.
Master Works by Kentucky Painters: 1819-1935, The University of Kentucky Art Museum, September 14 – November 30, 2008.
“Tales From the Turf: The Kentucky Horse, 1825-1950”. Speed Art Museum, November 15, 2019 – March 1, 2020.
Mackay-Smith, Alexander, The Race Horses of America, 1832–1872: Portraits and Other Paintings by Edward Troye, Saratoga Springs: National Museum of Racing, 1981, pp. 290, 297-298.
Lacer, Genevieve Baird, Edward Troye: Painter of Thoroughbred Stories, Harmony House Publishers, Kentucky, 2007, p. 208.
Pennington, Estill Curtis, Kentucky: The Master Painters from the Frontier Era to the Great Depression, 2008, Cane Ridge Publishing House, p. 94, (erroneously titled Lexington).
*Note: Alexander Mackay-Smith’s The Race Horses of America, 1832-1872: Portraits and other Paintings by Edward Troye provided much of the information in this description of the painting and subject matter.