12 October 2015

Sam Spode: Artist

I am really excited to introduce you to my first guest blog. It comes from Peter Roden, a direct descendant of Samuel Spode (1757-1817), who was the younger son of Josiah Spode I (1733-1797) founder of the Spode company.

Peter is responsible for most of the 
research into the Spode family history. He has kindly shared it with me over the years for which I am eternally grateful. His careful, detailed work has brought new insight not just into the wider Spode family but also into the history of the Spode company and its associated pottery factories. Go to my booklist and look under Roden for details of publications.

The Spode family has some very interesting and fascinating characters. So, get ready to meet the intriguing Sam Spode, artist, grandson of Josiah Spode I.


Sam Spode (1798-1872) by Peter Roden
One of the most interesting and enigmatic characters in the Spode family was Sam Spode. He was the grandson of Josiah Spode I.

Spode I was founder of the Spode company. Spode I's eldest son was named Josiah and is now referred to as Spode II. Spode I's second son was named Samuel. It is Samuel who is the father of 'our' Sam who was born on 21 April 1798.

Both sons of the elder Samuel - another Josiah and 'our' Sam - married on the same day in 1821. A few weeks later, with their new brides, both took advantage of the then government's marketing campaign to encourage free settlers to emigrate to the penal colony of Van Dieman's Land (now Tasmania). The older brother Josiah stayed there, and became Principal Superintendent of Convicts, until the post was abolished. He has descendants still living there.

'Distant view of Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land, from Blufhead' c1825
Sam, however, returned to England with his wife and family in 1826. He had briefly been the Clerk to the colony's Supreme Court, having been trained as a lawyer by his uncle, Thomas Fenton, who had married Spode I's youngest daughter, Anne.

When he returned to England from Van Dieman's Land, Sam and his family were initially taken in by his sister Sarah, who had married the potter Charles James Mason, and lived in his mansion, 'Heron Cottage' at Heron Cross in the Staffordshire Potteries. Sam's first wife died within a year of their return to England and his children subsequently spent a lot of time at Heron Cottage. Although Sam married his second wife soon after the decease of the first, and for a few years continued to look for work as a lawyer, two of his early paintings were done at Heron Cross. One is now in the Raven Mason Collection at Keele Hall, (its subject is the Mason home at Heron Cross), the other, illustrated here, is now in my possession, having recognised the similarity therewith of what an auctioneer could only describe as children in 'an industrial landscape'. Those children are likely to be Sam's daughter Mary, my Great Grandmother, and her cousin, Sam's niece, Florence Elizabeth Mason.

'Children in an Industrial Landscape'
Although he had been trained as a lawyer, his real vocation was to be an artist principally painting animals, particularly horses. He certainly loved hunting, and painted many hunting scenes, including his own self portrait.
Self Portrait
He also painted many famous racehorses, including 'Voltager', winner of both the Derby and the St. Ledger in 1850, and had three Irish racehorses named after him - 'Miss Spode', 'Mrs Spode' and 'Sam Spode'.

The output of his paintings was prolific, I have records of 400 auctions of his paintings in the last 40 years, one of which was inscribed 'Copenhagen, the charger of the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo - the 100th picture of him painted by Mr Spode'.

'Copenhagen'
Clearly Sam was a high volume painter, with a good marketing eye for memorabilia of famous battles. After the battle of Balaclava in 1854, he produced several paintings of 'Ronald', the charger of the contemporary hero then, the Earl of Cardigan, though sometimes he lost the detail for marketing considerations, and some of his pictures of the Earl's charger are inscribed 'Roland' instead of 'Ronald'!
'Voltager'
Many of his paintings of horses are very similar, as if he was churning them out on a production line. Compare his paintings of 'Voltager' and 'Sam Spode'.
The racehorse: 'Sam Spode'
About 1845, Sam produced several paintings for patrons with Stonehenge in the background, and he probably lived briefly at nearby Amesbury, where he fathered a child which died in infancy.

There is also a group of very similar portraits of horses in stables, e.g. 'Caractacus', (Derby winner in 1862), 'Favonius' (Derby winner in 1871), and 'Charley' (probably a hunting horse):

'Caractacus'
'Favonius'
'Charley'
Sometimes his patrons liked to be included in the paintings too, like John Dawson Duckett and the Earl of Lonsdale:
'John Dawson Duckett on the Lad'
'Earl of Lonsdale on his Old Favourite Tempest'
From the early 1830s onwards, he travelled widely in search of commissions, frequently visiting Ireland, and probably regarded Ireland as his home in the 1860s, though he never seems to have settled anywhere.

There is lovely group of paintings from the 1860s of portraits of horses in rural Irish landscapes:
'Landscape with Grey Hunter and Dog'
'A Favourite Hunter, a Pony and a Dog in a Mountain River Landscape'
When a portrait of an Irish horse was being auctioned in Ireland recently, a friend who lives in Ireland, and with whom I have shared research information, went to the auction preview, and noticed a newspaper cutting attached to the back of the painting which the auctioneer didn't mention in the sale particulars. It was probably Sam's sales brochure, and included an ode dedicated to the named master of the Kilkenny Fox Hounds in the 1860s. The last four lines of Sam's ode are:
'Having finish'd 'Dicks' picture, I'm so far explicit,
Other horses to pourtray, I beg now to solicit,
Or I must move off back to England I fear,
But I'd much rather stay, and be painting well here!'

His family life was turbulent, to say the least. By the age of 40, he had been widowed three times, and subsequently had at least two more wives, though he wasn't widowed again after his third wife died!


In 1865, despite his fourth English wife still being alive, Sam claimed to be a bachelor and married an Irish girl named Delia in Dublin, by whom he may well have had a couple of children previously. He died in Dublin on 31 March 1872, following which Delia was granted administration of his meagre estate. However, his death was registered by a Teresa Spode, whose relationship to Sam we can only speculate.


Because Sam worked solely on commissions, he never exhibited for the art world, and so he has been relatively unknown and unrecognised. I had long wanted to try to rectify the conspicuous lack of published information about Sam, and had an illustrated article about him published in Antique Collecting magazine in October 2011. However many auction houses continue to give his wrong dates when they have one of his paintings to sell.


More of Sam Spode's paintings can be found on the Your Paintings website. Click HERE
'A Dark Bay Horse Held by a Trainer in a Landscape'
And, more of my history of Sam Spode can be found on the AskART website. This is available by subscription but on Fridays access to the full text is free.

If you want to know more about Sam, his paintings and his family, please contact me via this contact form HERE> marking  it for the attention of Peter Roden.