Richard Barret Davis 1782-1854
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Richard Barret Davis 1782-1854

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A soldier-groom of the 2nd Life Guards in Stable Dress Order holding the bridle of “Murat”, an officer's bay charger, which is wearing the shabracque and lambskin saddle-cover of the Regiment1 The view is taken through the central arch of Horse Guards, headquarters of the Household Division, looking towards the façade of Buckingham Palace across St James's Park. 


Oil painting on canvas 25 x 30 inches, and contained in its original gilt frame decorated in the corners with military trophies and inscribed with the name of the horse. A trade label of “Doig and McKechnie of 90 George Street Edinburgh” is attached to the reverse of the frame. This firm was active as “framers and picture cleaners” 1885-1895, suggesting that the painting was sent there for cleaning at around that date.


Signed and dated 1829


Provenance: ….............Private collection, Sussex until 2010


Richard Barrett Davis was born at Watford, Hertfordshire, and baptised on 25 July 1782 at Hemel Hempstead, the eldest of the nine sons of Richard Davis (1750–1825), who became huntsman to George III's private harriers in 1789, and his wife, Sarah. At the end of the eighteenth century the hunt moved to Windsor, and it was here that the king saw and admired some drawings by the young Davis. Sir Francis Bourgeois RA, landscape-painter to the king, did not take pupils but, when told it was the royal wish, he became Davis's tutor in 1804. Davis studied under Sir William Beechey RA. and at the Royal Academy Schools, although he was not registered as a pupil. Davis had already exhibited a landscape at the Royal Academy in 1802, and two landscapes with cattle the following year. His progress and aptitude for animal painting was demonstrated by his picture His Majesty in his Travelling Chariot Returning to Town from Windsor, which was shown at the Royal Academy in 1805, and Mares and Foals in his Majesty's Stud at Windsor the following year. He started exhibiting at the British Institution in 1808 and at the Society (later Royal Society) of British Artists in 1827. At the last venue he regularly exhibited the maximum number of nine paintings allowed annually for the next ten years. He held various offices in the society, including briefly being president in 1832, ceasing to be a member in 1843. In 1828 he was made animal painter to George IV, and later held similar appointments to William IV and Queen Victoria. In 1831 he painted an vast panoramic frieze (128 ft 4 in. long) of the coronation procession of William IV (Royal Collection).

William Henry Davis (c.1795–1885), a younger brother of R. B. Davis, was also a proflic animal painter, specialising in portraits of prize cattle and the like. He was appointed animal painter to William IV in 1837 and to Queen Victoria in 1839. R. B. Davis's daughter, Sara, painted portraits and six of her miniatures were shown at the Royal Academy between 1846 and 1854. The majority of R. B. Davis's paintings shown at the Royal Academy were of horses including, in 1840, Portrait of the Hermit, Celebrated in the Royal Hunt, the Property of her Majesty, followed in 1842 by Portrait of Mr Davis, her Majesty's Huntsman, on the Hermit. This was Charles Davis, another younger brother, who became huntsman to the royal buckhounds in 1822, and held that post for forty-four years until his death in 1866.

Without doubt the royal patronage and associations with hunting brought many commissions to the industrious R. B. Davis. Despite exhibiting regularly at the Royal Academy for fifty years, he was never elected as an associate of the academy. His output was variable but his honest and straightforward portraits of horses and riders set in recognizable landscapes and of other animals (his painting of hounds was particularly fine) afforded him a comfortable income at this stage of his life.

In 1836, in conjunction with the print publishers A. H. Bailey & Co., Davis started producing a series of prints of different hunts: The Hunter's Annual. This comprised pages of letterpress describing four contemporary packs of hounds, each with a hand-coloured lithographic equestrian portrait after paintings by the artist of their principal huntsman. These sets of four plates continued, in the series in 1838 and 1839, and in what was described as a second series, in 1841, The Hunter's Annual was in aquatint. A number of Davis's engagingly composed shooting scenes were also engraved, and he contributed thirty subjects for the Sporting Magazine.

Towards the end of his life prim and censorious middle-class Victorian urban opinion led to hunting becoming less fashionable, and commissions became fewer, as did the number of his paintings shown at the Royal Academy and the Society of British Artists. When he died on 13 March 1854, at his home, 9 Bedford Place, Kensington, as a result of a tetanus infection, he was poor , and left a widow, Lucy. (quoted from Colonel Charles Lane, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.)

The present painting, with its direct handling and confident use of colour, is typical of the artist's work at the height of his career, painted in the year (1829) when he was appointed a member of the Suffolk Street Academy Society and two years before his appointment as official Animal Painter to His Majesty, King William IV. At this date many of his commissions were coming from court (most exotically for his splendid portraits of the Royal Giraffes) and from military and hunting patrons in the around Windsor where he maintained a studio.

It is likely that the charger is named after Napoleon's General, Joachim Murat (1757-1815)

Joachim-Napoléon Murat (25 March 1767 – 13 October 1815), 1st Prince Murat, Grand Duke of Berg and Cleves, Marshal of France and Admiral of France, was King of Naples from 1808 to 1815. He received his titles in part by being the brother-in-law of Napoleon Bonaparte, through marriage to Napoleon's youngest sister, Caroline Bonaparte. He was noted as a flamboyant dresser and was known as 'the dandy king'.

Joachim Murat was born 25 March 1767, in La Bastide, (renamed Labastide-Murat after its renowned citizen), in the Lot department of France, in the former province of Guyenne, to Pierre Murat-Jordy, (d. 27 July 1799), an innkeeper, and his wife Jeanne Loubières (La Bastide Fortunière, b.1722 – La Bastide Fortunière, d. 11 March 1806), daughter of Pierre Loubières and of his wife Jeanne Viellescazes. His father was the son of Guillaume Murat (1692 – 1754) and wife Marguerite Herbeil (– 1755), paternal grandson of Pierre Murat, born in 1634, and wife Catherine Badourès, who died in 1697, and maternal grandson of Bertrand Herbeil and wife Anne Roques.
Murat enlisted in the cavalry at the age of twenty. In 1791, he joined the king's Constitutional Guard, but left it soon for the regular army. In 1792, he became an officer. He was a staunch supporter of the notorious revolutionary Jacobin Jean-Paul Marat, and thus believed in a philosophy championing a strong centralized government in the form of a republic.

In the autumn of 1795, three years after King Louis XVI of France was deposed, royalist and counter-revolutionaries organised an armed uprising. On 3 October, General Napoleon Bonaparte, who was stationed in Paris, was named commander of the French National Convention's defending forces. This constitutional convention, after a long period of emergency rule, was striving to establish a more stable and permanent government in the uncertain period after the Reign of Terror. Bonaparte tasked Murat with the gathering of artillery from a suburb outside the control of the government's forces. Murat managed to take the cannons of the Camp des Sablons and transport them to the centre of Paris while avoiding the rioters. The use of these cannons on 4 October allowed Bonaparte to save the members of the National Convention.[2] For this success Joachim Murat was made chef de brigade (colonel) and thereafter remained one of Napoleon's best officers.
Italian and Egyptian campaigns

In 1796, with the situation in the capital and government apparently stabilised and the war going poorly (See also: French Revolutionary Wars), Napoleon lobbied to join the armies attempting to secure the revolution against the invading monarchist forces. Murat then went with Bonaparte to northern Italy, initially as his aide-de-camp, and was later named commander of the cavalry during the many campaigns against the Austrians and their allies. These forces were waging war on France and seeking to restore a monarchy in revolutionary France. His valour and his daring cavalry charges later earned him the rank of général in these important campaigns, the battles of which became famous as Bonaparte constantly used speed of maneuver to fend off and eventually defeat individually superior opposing armies closing in on the French forces from several directions. Thus, Murat's skills in no small part helped establish Bonaparte's legendary fame and enhance his popularity with the French people.

Murat commanded the cavalry of the French Egyptian expedition of 1798, again under Bonaparte. The expedition's strategic goal was to threaten Britain's rich holdings in India. (Some had been taken from France during the Seven Years' War). However, the overall effort ended prematurely because of lack of logistical support with the defeat of the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile . After the sea battle, Napoleon led his troops on land toward Europe (via Palestine and thence Ottoman Turkey), but was recalled by the Directory (at least in part) as it feared an invasion by Britain. Abbé Sieyès also saw Bonaparte as an ally against a resurgent Jacobin movement, and so the expeditionary army was turned over to a subordinate.

The remaining non-military expedition staff officers, including Murat, and Bonaparte returned to France, eluding various British fleets, in five frigates. Subsequently Murat played an important, even pivotal, role in Bonaparte's 'coup within a coup' of 18 Brumaire (9 November 1799) when Napoleon first assumed national power. Along with two others (including Director Abbé Sieyès), Napoleon Bonaparte set aside the five-man directory government, establishing the three-man French Consulate government.

Murat married Caroline Bonaparte in a civil ceremony on 20 January 1800 at Mortefontaine (Plailly?) and religiously on 4 January 1802 in Paris, thus becoming a son-in-law of Letizia Ramolino as well as brother-in-law to Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon I of France, Lucien Bonaparte, Elisa Bonaparte, Louis Bonaparte, Pauline Bonaparte and Jérôme Bonaparte.

Napoleon made Murat a Marshal of France on 18 May 1804, and also granted him the title of "First Horseman of Europe". He was created Prince of the Empire in 1805, appointed Grand Duke of Berg and Cleves on 15 March 1806 and held this title till 1 August 1808 when he was named King of Naples and Sicily.

Murat was equally useful in Napoleon's invasion of Russia (1812), and in the Battle of Leipzig (1813). However, after France's defeat at Leipzig, Murat reached an agreement with the Austrian Empire in order to save his own throne. During the Hundred Days, he realized that the European powers, meeting as the Congress of Vienna, had the intention to remove him and return the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily to its pre-Napoleonic rulers. Murat deserted his new allies, and, after issuing a proclamation to the Italian patriots in Rimini, moved north to fight against the Austrians in the Neapolitan War to strengthen his rule in Italy by military means. He was defeated by Frederick Bianchi, a general of Francis I of Austria, in the Battle of Tolentino (2-3 May 1815).

He fled to Corsica after Napoleon's fall. During an attempt to regain Naples through an insurrection in Calabria, he was arrested by the forces of the legitimate King, Ferdinand IV of Naples, and was eventually executed by firing squad at the Castello di Pizzo, (Calabria).

Murat met a fearless death, taking the shots standing and unblindfolded. When the fatal moment arrived, Murat walked with a firm step to the place of execution, as calm, as unmoved, as if he had been going to an ordinary review. He would not accept a chair, nor suffer his eyes to be bound. "I have braved death (said he) too often to fear it." He stood upright, proudly and undauntedly, with his countenance towards the soldiers; and when all was ready, he kissed a cameo on which the head of his wife was engraved, and gave the word - thus,

« Soldats ! Faites votre devoir ! Droit au cœur mais épargnez le visage. Feu ! »
"Soldiers! Do your duty! Straight to the heart but avoid the face. Fire!

Never was a man more ironically named: “Murat” in Arabic means “Happy Ending”

Identification of the officer who owned “Murat” has proved elusive: it seems not to be recorded in the archives of the regiment at Windsor (information from the archivist), nor is it referred to in General Barney White-Spunner's authoritative history of the Household Cavalry Horse Guards (Macmillan, 2006). In 1829, the regiment was in its period of “ceremonial frustration” as White-Spunner has dubbed the post-Waterloo period for the Household Cavalry. The euphoria of that great victory, and the subsequent march on Paris, has been replaced by an extended peace in which the regiments were increasingly used for ceremonial duties in London and Windsor. This was the period, too, of the “beautification” of the uniforms of the soldiers, as the flamboyant Prince Regent promoted himself to Colonel-in-Chief of both the regiments of Life Guards.

The Historical Records of the Life Guards (London, Longman Orme & Co, 1840, pp 218 records that:

“In 1829 the Duke of Orleans visited England; and on the 27th May His Royal Highness reviewed the second Life Guards, royal horse guards, tenth and fifteenth hussars, and the first and third foot guards, with a brigade of artillery in Hyde Park.

The first Life Guards left Windsor on the 7th of July 1829, and marched to the Regent's Park barracks; and the second regiment proceeded to the barracks in Hyde Park.”