John Vine was born in 1808 the son of a Bury St Edmunds market gardener. He was born with severe hand and arm deformities but from an early age showed such a talent for drawing that he seems to have been exhibited in fairs as a curious prodigy for a period of time between1820 and 1831. In around 1831 however he settled in Colchester and practiced there as an artist until his death in 1867. In 1847 he married Sarah Ann Surrey from Magdalen Street. They set up home in a bungalow which replaced a caravan on Maldon Road where his father had set up a nursery on four acres of land.
Having first established himself as a portrait artist, he later achieved success as a respected painter of horses and fat stock and was appointed official painter to the Royal Agricultural Society. Now described as a ‘primitive’ painter his work has become increasingly popular, with paintings reaching vast amounts of money.
For a portrait of the artist as a young boy see a stipple engraving kept at the British Museum. There is also a portrait of the artist in his twenties in an unknown location (See Bibliography: Country Life – 9th April 1992, pp.40-41)
This series of paintings is typical of a period dating from 1780 to 1850 when breeding farm animals swept the country and farmers commissioned artists to paint their livestock to impress their friends and clients, in the same way as their predecessors had their horses and dogs recorded in painted for posterity. Royalty, nobility and commoners alike competed side by side for livestock prizes at agricultural shows, the aim being to breed the largest animal on the least amount of food in the shortest period of time. These paintings also belong to a period when the demand for lean meat was high and agricultural experimentation in vogue. It was a time when pigs and cows were bred to be so fat that the former could not stand on their feet and the latter could weigh up to 2,800 pounds.
As an art animal painting was not considered as elevated as history painting or portraiture but its artists earned a steady income out of their craft with some earning vast amounts of money.
IONA ANTIQUES, London, UK
MONCRIEFF, Elizabeth, Farm Animal Portraits 1780-1900, Antique Collectors’ Club of Suffolk, UK
SCANTLEBURY, Hugh, ‘No obstacle to Talent’, Country Life, Volume 186, April 9, 1992, pp. 40-41