Brush with Greatness

Charles Morris Young captured all the majesty and pageantry of the Hunt.

(page 1 of 3)

Charles Morris Young at work in 1963.One of the guiding lights of the Radnor Hunt in the first decades of the 20th century, J. Stanley Reeve was a seasoned sportsman and snappy dresser celebrated for his colorful straw bowlers and, on occasion, a nearly orange suit. Married to a cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, Reeve was dubbed “the leading foxhunter of the leading foxhunting city in the country” by Town & Country magazine. With its superb hounds, spirited steeplechase races, balls, social buzz, and glorious grounds and clubhouse, the Radnor Hunt Club was the place to be for local society in the 1920s.

A noted historian, Reeve kept a detailed account of all things Radnor. And, along with master of the hunt Horace Hare, he also forged a close bond with Charles Morris Young, who was commissioned to paint portraits of the club’s members and many scenes.

Setting up his easel atop a hill, Young captured the romance of the foxhunter and his country.

What intrigued Young most was the interplay between the wily fox and the disciplined pack of hounds. “Far from suffering, I believe the foxes enjoy the sport,” related Young, 95, in a newspaper interview in 1964, the year he died. “The foxes also like to watch me at work.”

Morris’ iconic collection of timeless Radnor hunting moments is clearly unique in the context of sporting art in America. Leonard King is a Hunt member, an artist who paints country scenes, and the director of the Devon Horse Show. He owns two of Young’s paintings and a drawing from the 1920s. “Young was able to take color and a brush, and splash it on the canvas—and there is no detail. But when you step back, it’s a foxhound,” says King. “It’s simply miraculous.”

In 2008, Collin McNeil authored Bright Hunting Morn, a superbly presented history of the Radnor Fox Hunting Club. “Young is the unsung master of the Pennsylvania impressionists,” says McNeil. “His landscapes and seascapes are very colorful and evocative. If you put the best of [Daniel] Garber up against the best of Young, they’re equally appealing.”

Charles Morris Young was born in Gettysburg, six years after the monumental Civil War battle. His love of the land was forged on long walks to his uncle’s school at Selin’s Grove and while trotting along country lanes on the back of his horse, Cigaret. A book from his father’s library on the great English landscape painter John Constable and sculptors of battlefield monuments provided his first introduction to art.

Young started painting at age 16, and soon he was etching quarter-size battle scenes on walking sticks that were snapped up by tourists for 50 cents each. The funds helped put Young through art school at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. When he enrolled in 1891, the Philadelphia region harbored the leading impressionists—Edward Willis Redfield, Walter Schofield and Garber.

Young studied with Thomas Eakins and trained under Robert Vonnoh and Thomas Anshutz, the academy’s most prominent teachers. He knew John Singer Sargent and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

In 1893, Young married Eliza Middleton Coxe, a beautiful woman with a high-society background who also was a PAFA student. The couple took their easels to Paris in 1903. Fellow Philadelphian artist Mary Cassatt suggested they visit Giverny, where an artist colony had sprung up around Claude Monet. The Youngs spent two summers there. Like Monet, Young was especially skillful at capturing the quality of light at certain times of the day.

Continued on page 2 ...