Bonhams to offer the most famous golfing painting in the world
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Bonhams to offer the most famous golfing painting in the world
Lemuel Francis Abbott, The Portrait of Henry Callender standing in a landscape, in the red coat of Captain General of the Blackheath Golf Club and holding a putter, estimate £600,000 – 800,000. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Bonhams London is to offer the most famous golfing painting in the world: The Portrait of Henry Callender standing in a landscape, in the red coat of Captain General of the Blackheath Golf Club and holding a putter by the Leicestershire artist Lemuel Francis Abbott (1760-1803). It is estimated at £600,000 - 800,000.

Peter Alliss, ‘the voice of Golf’ writing in the forthcoming issue of Bonhams Magazine, says, “It is not often that a world-famous piece of golfing memorabilia comes on the open market, but such is the case with the portrait of one Henry Callender… It is truly splendid.”

The portrait, known to golfers the world over, is also one of the earliest depictions of the game. For the last 150 years at least, it has hung in the club house of the Royal Blackheath Golf Club - itself one of the oldest golf clubs in the world. It is being sold to raise funds for the acquisition of the freehold of its course and clubhouse from The Crown Estate – a one-off opportunity to ensure its future.

Royal Blackheath Golf Club can trace its origins back to 1608, shortly after the Union of the Scottish and English Crowns saw James VI of Scotland journeying south to London bringing, it is believed, his golf-loving courtiers with him.

The Portrait
The portrait’s sitter is Henry Callender, an expatriate Scot, who is depicted in the uniform of a Captain General of the Blackheath Society of Golfers. This style of uniform is still worn by Captains of the Society on formal occasions. The title of Captain General is an honorary one bestowed upon a member of good standing who is part chairman, secretary, president, law maker, and someone whose opinion is asked on any matters that might arise about the workings of Royal Blackheath Golf Club. This title is unique in the golfing world.

The portrait itself is undated, but it was the subject of a mezzotint issued in 1812 which helped to make the image more widely known. Its fame was secured when the mezzotint was reproduced in colour by various publishers 100 years later. Today golfing enthusiasts around the world know it as one of the earliest major golfing portraits in existence and one of the most iconic.

Golf Clubs
There are two antique golf clubs featured in the painting. Callender is holding in his right hand a mid-18th century large stout spoon with an exaggerated rounded back. The artist has shown the rear of the club with its large area of lead back weight. To Callender's left is his metal headed blade putter with wrap round leather grip. This is almost certainly the putter which is also included in the sale estimated at £50,000-80,000.

The Sitter
Although little is known about Henry Callender’s life outside the Blackheath Golf Club he was a popular and much respected figure within it being Secretary for seventeen years and Captain three times. In the words of Bonhams Director of Old Master Paintings, “From what we read about Harry Callender we can picture an expatriate Scot who was both connoisseur and sociable bon-viveur; a character who would most surely have enjoyed the last two hundred years in which he had the privilege of looking down on the Royal Blackheath's famous 'Wee Dinners' in which haggis, a quaich of whisky, much toasting and often a song or two have been enjoyed before guests and members are invited to show off their pitching skills in a game of closest to the hole, played from the dining room table, through the window to the 18th green below.”

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