Charles Humphreys : Toronto
Charles Humphreys (Toronto)

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Artist: Charles Humphreys
Title: Toronto
Media: Oil on canvas 25 × 30 inches
Description: Signed at bottom center: “Humphreys.Camden. N.J.”
Inscribed at bottom: “TORONTO.was sired by an imported English thorough-bred HORSE,and/his Dam was a cross of the French Canadian & English thorough-bred stock.”

This painting pertains to one of the most popular sporting activities in the United States during the late nineteenth century: trotting or harness racing. The sport had its origins in the late eighteenth century, when farmers would race across country roads to determine who had the fastest horse. Tracks were built during the early 1800s, and harness racing gradually became a popular national pastime, reaching its zenith in the last half of the century. The Standardbred horse was developed specifically to excel at harness racing; the breed’s name was derived from the fact that such horses had to meet a set standard time to qualify for the customary harness racing distance of one mile.1 Humphreys’s patrons were probably wealthy horseracing enthusiasts who owned the horses represented in his paintings. Evidently they admired the artist’s naïve, non-academic style, and appreciated his accurate representation of equine anatomy and various nuances of the meticulously delineated carriages and trappings. This artistic style was certainly appropriate for representing a sport like harness racing, which, in contrast to thoroughbred racing, was an egalitarian sport that appealed to the masses. Humphreys often used lettered inscriptions, such as the one across the bottom of Toronto, to identify and provide information about the horses; these reflect his experience as a sign painter.

A note in the Schwarz Gallery’s files records that Toronto was originally owned by the president of the Belmont Driving Club, who displayed it in the sitting room in the front of his house on Green Street in Philadelphia. According to Chester’s Complete Trotting and Pacing Record (1884), Toronto was a brown gelding who placed sixth at Fleetwood Park, New York, on June 19, 1874, second at Clyde, New York, on September 4, 1879, and third at New Hunting Park, Philadelphia, on May 1, 1882.2 It is thus likely that Humphreys executed this painting sometime during the late 1870s or early ’80s. Despite Toronto’s distinguished racing record, Humphreys represented him on a recreational ride with his owner or trainer, who sits rigidly erect in profile on a two-wheeled carriage. In similar paintings Humphreys showed race horses driven by people in more formal dress, such as The Trotter (c. 1860, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), or ridden by celebrated jockeys in specific races such as Budd Doble Driving Goldsmith Maid at Belmont Driving Park (1876, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). In such trotting subjects Humphreys consistently depicted the horses’ legs in the same position, and he habitually represented small clouds of dirt rising from the ground to suggest speed.


1 . For a history of the sport, see Philip A. Pines, The Complete Book of Harness Racing (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1970).

2 . According to a note in the Schwarz Gallery files, these results are recorded in William T. Chester, Chester’s Complete Trotting and Pacing Record, Containing Summaries of All Races Trotted or Paced in the United States or Canada from the Earliest to the Close of 1883 (New York: William T. Chester, 1884).

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Price: This item is no longer available for sale
Inventory: RS 3002
Category: •a:American•a:New Jersey•a:Philadelphia•horse•New Jersey•nineteenth century•racing•sport•
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