Owned by the Butter family of Faskally Estate, near Pitlochry, Peter of Faskally was feted as a champion at the beginning of the 20th century. The Butter’s were very adept gundog trainers and in the decade running up to the First World War Labrador Retrievers owned and trained by the couple appeared consistently on gundog trial leader-boards. In 1910 Peter of Faskally was the only Retriever to win two open stakes in one season and in 1911 was the first champion to compete in an entry composed entirely of Labradors. His studwork left a significant legacy – no fewer than 32 of his progeny won or were placed in stakes during the following decade and he is known to be the original blood line for all present day Chocolate Labradors.
Having been on the verge of near-extinction and not even a registered breed for field trials in the last decade of the 19th century, the Labrador's entry into the sporting scene in the first decade of the 20th century was as sudden as it was spectacular and in the last full season before the war, some 179 of the 247 dogs entered for the 14 field trials were Labradors. This surge can be attributed largely to the Duke of Buccleuch's Labradors who, although never they campaigned in field trials competitions, became the basis of the good blood in many Labrador field champions in the early 20th century. Peter of Faskally had much Buccleuch blood from both of his parents.
The owner’s family kept cuttings of Peter’s successful performances in field trials between 1910 and 1912 and it is clear from them that he was an exceptional gun dog whose work was widely admired. In 1911 the Kennel Gazette reported, “I have no hesitation in describing Mr. A.E. Butter’s Peter of Faskally as the most notable performer of the year. After carrying off first prize at the All-Aged Stakes at the Kennel Club Trials…he went on to reap a further brilliant victory by taking first prize in the Open at the Scottish Field Trials. The winning of two such capital events in one year has never been done before. Peter to my mind combines to perfection all the qualities that are claimed for Labradors, great speed, sagacity, excellent nose, and absolutely tender mouth, and while splendidly endowed with initiative, he is not above taking a hint from his master.” Rave reviews of his performances appeared in other publications including the Scotsman, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Glasgow Herald, Sportsman, Country Gentleman and The Field.
The second Labrador in the picture, a bitch called Dungavel Jet, was bred by the Duchess of Hamilton and bought by the Butter’s in 1911. Together they produced numerous litters, but Dungavel Jet was a successful champion in her own right. In 1911 before an end of season Championship at Balmer Hall, The Field noted the equality between the two dogs – “Mrs Archibald Butter’s Dungavel Jet and Peter of Faskally, property of Mr. Butter, will be followed with interest for it is recognised that either Lab might win.”
Maud Earl (1864-1943) was an eminent British-American artist known for her canine paintings. Her father, uncle and brother were also successful animal painters, and it was her father, George, who was her first teacher. She studied at the Royal Female School of Art and later exhibited twelve works at the Royal Academy. She became famous at a time when women were not expected to make their living through working as an artist, but she developed a select clientele and counted Queen Victoria and Queen Alexandra amongst her patrons. In 1916 she emigrated to New York City.
Laura Turnbull of Bonhams 19th Century Pictures department comments, “We are extremely excited to be offering such an important work this coming year. Impressive in both size and content, this painting encapsulates all that is exceptional about Maud Earl. An inherent understanding of her subject is combined with a grandeur that befits such an important dog.”