Thwack! A light ripple of applause. A sip of tea. A pause. A shout goes up: HOWZAT!
As the sounds of summer go, there are perhaps none so quintessentially 'English' as a cricket match. Willow on leather, the smell of linseed oil, the taste of Pimms – it's a sport that attracts its fair share of cliches. But what of art? There's a surprisingly long history of representing the game, the players and the crowd in paintings, so let's take to the crease and see what's on Art UK.
The first over
Long before today's professional game, cricket was a pastime for gentlemen. This is evident in this marvellous portrait by Francis Cotes of a young Charles Collyer, bat in hand. The bat is curved – more like a club – and at this time the stumps would have been just two in number, with a single bail on top. Cotes was a noted portraitist and a founder member of the Royal Academy.
A similar – though unnamed – boy poses with a bat in this painting.
The end of the eighteenth century saw cricket kit adopted occasionally as a prop for portraiture, as in this charming group portrait of the children of Sir John William Pole (1757–1799), and Anne Templer (d.1832) – William, Mary Ann and John. Shute House (now Shute Barton, National Trust), their family home, is in the background.
Hit for six
During the nineteenth century, as cricket moved towards its modern form, certain players became well known – eventually leading to the celebrity experienced by some of the professionals today. Over the years, some were fortunate enough to be recorded for posterity. Here are six of them in the nation's collection.
James Grundy (1827–1873) was an English cricketer from Nottingham – this painting is in Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club. He was one of the notable bowlers of the 1850s during what is known as the 'roundarm era'. This was a style of bowling introduced in the early nineteenth century to improve the speed from the underarm bowling style that was used in earlier times. It largely fell out of use after overarm bowling was legalised in 1864. Grundy took 1,137 wickets in 298 matches. In 1859 he was one of twelve players who took part in cricket's first-ever overseas tour when an England cricket team visited North America.
Possibly more people today could tell you about his enormous beard than his batting average, but the name W. G. Grace still conjures up an almost mythical idea of cricket in the late nineteenth century. Even those who don't follow the game have likely heard of the man who played first-class cricket for an incredible 44 seasons, from 1865 to 1908. He was captain of many teams, including England, Gloucestershire, and Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). He was the first batsman to score a century before lunch in a first-class match in 1873, the first player ever to score 1,000 runs and take 100 wickets in a season, and the first person to score a century for England in a test match, in 1880.
Edging slowly into the twentieth century, C. B. Fry was truly a great sportsman. He represented England at both cricket (between 1896 and 1912) and football (against Ireland in 1901), he played in the FA Cup Final for Southampton and equalled the world record for the long jump. He reputedly turned down the throne of Albania, and his party trick was leaping from a stationary position backwards onto a mantelpiece. And you thought cricketers were boring...
Ray Illingworth (b.1932) is currently one of only nine players to have taken 2,000 wickets and made 20,000 runs in first-class cricket. He played for Yorkshire (1951–1968 and 1982–1983), Leicestershire (1969–1978) and England (1958–1973) and was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1960. This portrait is from Leicestershire County Cricket Club and was commissioned in 1971.
A genuine all-rounder, Ian Botham (b.1955) was the hero of the 1981 Ashes, leading England to victory over arch-rivals Australia. In his career, Botham scored 14 test centuries, and from 1986 to 1988, he held the world record for the most test wickets. In 1980, he became the second player in test history to complete the 'match double' of scoring 100 runs and taking 10 wickets in the same match.
This portrait by the then little-known Scottish painter (although now quite famous) John Bellany caused considerable controversy and was voted 'rubbish' by the sitter's tabloid fans!
Viv Richards (b.1952 in Antigua) played for the West Indies between 1974 and 1991, and was part of the side that won the inaugural Cricket World Cup in 1975, and in the one that retained the trophy in 1979. His brilliance with the bat transcended national allegiances, and he scored the fastest century in test history (from just 56 balls) in 1986, a record only beaten in 2016.
Break for tea
Having looked a bit at the players, the idea of watching cricket is perhaps more 'English' than actually playing it.
Often artists would use the backdrop of a cricket match to portray a more general scene of high society, or simple village life.
Sometimes there's not even room to include any of the players, as in this view of some enterprising spectators.
We've 'run out' of cricketing expressions
Whether you're batting, bowling or fielding...
...cricket can be a tough game.
But cricket can also be for everyone. You don't need a massive pitch and a well-manicured square of lawn.
Take a look at these depictions of children (for some odd reason known to the artist, segregated by sex) and this one of Knaresborough, with a game of cricket played against a wall. No wicket-keeper required!
The final wicket
Let's round off this sporting sojourn with a look at a cricket match in Edenside, Carlisle – a painting by Samuel Bough found at Tullie House.
The blue sky looks ominously cloudy. Could rain stop play? Will the weather intervene and cause a draw? Our American cousins would find it unthinkable that a sporting contest could go on for five days and nobody would emerge victorious.
But that's cricket. And it's wonderful.
Andrew Shore, Head of Content at Art UK