A hunter and his dogs close in on their prey. Unusually, this is an otter hunt and the little feller looks like he still has a chance to escape. And the dogs pictured are indeed classic otter hounds. A quintessential 19th Century English scene. Oil on canvas. 22 x 30.
Unsigned but on the back, marked H.C. Allen, Artists Colourman, Birkenhead. (near Liverpool, UK) There is an almost identical print in existence. The artist credited in the print was John Charlton, the well known Victorian painter of military and hunting scenes. (Otter Hunting in Cumberland, the Otter cornered. Illustration for The Graphic, 12 October 1889.) Our feeling is that this painting was copied or inspired by the print.
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The Otterhound is an old British dog breed. The origins are not known. It is a scent hound and is currently recognised by the Kennel Club as a Vulnerable Native Breed with around 600 animals worldwide.
The first recorded Otterhounds known to resemble the current breed are in the North-West of England in the first half of the 19th century – for example, the Hawkstone Otter Hunt and Squire Lomax’s Otterhounds. In the second half of the 19th century, French Griffons were outcrossed, including one-eighth Wolf cross/Griffon Vendeen from the Comte de Canteleu in Normandy. In the early 20th century the Griffon Nivernais was crossed into the breed, and one particular dog, Boatman, a Grand Griffon Vendeen/Bloodhound cross became an ancestor for several kennels.
The Otterhound is a large, rough-coated hound with an imposing head. Originally bred for hunting, it has great strength and a strong body with long striding steps. This makes it able to perform prolonged hard work. The Otterhound hunts its quarry both on land and in water and it has a combination of characteristics unique among hounds; most notably an oily, rough, double coat and substantial webbed feet. They have a nose that can track in the mud and water for over 72 hours.
Otterhounds generally weigh between 80 and 115 pounds (36 and 52 kg). They have extremely sensitive noses which make them inquisitive and perseverant in investigating scents. Consequently, they need particular supervision when outdoors. They are friendly dogs with a unique bass voice which they use frequently.
Otter hunting dates back to the early medieval period, with references it is found as early as 1360. The Otterhound, however, can only be traced back as a distinct breed as far as the early 1800s.
The otter is one of the largest and most intelligent carnivorous mammals in Europe. To be equal to the otter, an Otterhound was said to need “a Bulldog’s courage, a Newfoundland’s strength in water, a Pointer’s nose, a Retriever’s sagacity, the stamina of a Foxhound, the patience of a Beagle, and the intelligence of a Collie“.
In 1978, due to the dramatic decline in otter numbers, the otter was placed on the list of protected species in the UK and otterhunting therefore ceased. By 1977, nine registered packs of otterhounds were still in existence. A few hunts switched to hunting mink or coypu, but many of the original otterhound packs hunts ceased to exist altogether. Hounds were often passed to newly founded minkhound packs. The Pembroke and Carmarthenshire Minkhounds are the only pack today with a pure otterhound pack. As the dogs had been selectively bred for their hunting capabilities, only a few of the bloodlines were suitable for breeding into companion animals.
There are an estimated 600 Otterhounds in the world. It is considered to be the most endangered native breed in Britain, with only 38 new registrations in 2011. This is partially because Otterhounds have never been numerous, and even in the early 20th century, when otter hunting was at the height of its popularity as a sport, the number of dogs was still small. They are on the list of Vulnerable Native Breeds as identified by the UK Kennel Club, and great efforts are being made to save the breed