Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Saturday, 22 February 2014

A Day at The Races


The three men in the photograph look a little anxious. They’re at the races in Brisbane in 1939, dressed in suits and hats and carrying binoculars. Perhaps the race is about to start and the adrenalin is beginning to flow. Once it’s under way they’ll be chewing their lips and gripping their binoculars with sweaty palms and white knuckles, shouting and screaming as they will their chosen horse to the finish. What a pity we can’t see the ‘after’ picture. Will they be crestfallen and ashen-faced, when they realise they’re going to have to go home and explain to their wives that they’ve just lost everything? Or perhaps they’ll be throwing those hats into the air and shouting “Yipee!”- we’ll never know. They’re a good match for this week’s Sepia Saturday photo prompt, which also features three Australian men in suits and hats. The prompt picture is possibly of the annual stud sales by the Commonwealth Wool and Produce Company in Sydney in the early 1930s, so the men would be attending to see what the sheep stock was like rather than studying the horses’ form.


‘A Day at The Races’ was a famous 1937 Marx Brothers film and later the rock group Queen named one of their albums after the movie (following on from their previous album, ‘A Night at The Opera', also a Marx Brothers film). The film’s ‘disjointed plot line’ revolves around horse racing and is full of scams, comic routines and musical numbers.

Three men, but only two hats*

The entire film is available to view on YouTube, as are many well-known clips, such as this one featuring the famous ‘Tutsi Fruitsi Ice Cream’ scam which foiled Groucho’s attempt to place a bet on his chosen runner.


In my final image the three men in hats are again caught up in the world of horse-racing. How do we know this? The clues are in the picture itself. Like the painting in my previous post, 'A Piano Lesson', I found this picture in my copy of John Hadfield’s delightful book 'Every Picture Tells a Story’. In 2008 the painting was sold from a private collection and the catalogue notes written by the then owner, Sir David Scott, use John Hadfield’s wonderful description to shed light on what is going on in the picture. As before, there is more to this scene than meets the eye and a reading of those notes together with Hadfield’s quirky and humorous description make us look at the details to try and discover just what is going on in the scene. The painting is attributed to Charles Rossiter and is thought to be inspired by Ford Maddox Brown’s ‘The Last of England’ . Unlike the latter, the two escapees in this painting are ‘on the run’. Would you have noticed the copy of 'Bells’ Life in London’ (and Sporting Chronicle) lying on the deck below the man’s knee, unless I had pointed it out to you? Of course not, and neither did I until I read the book and the catalogue notes. There are many connotations to be drawn from this painting but what is undeniable is that the young man has, in Hadfield’s words, “come a cropper on the turf”. In other words he is running away from his creditors. To find out more of how Hadfield and others, interpreted the minute details, such as the letter in the woman’s lap, the bundle of hunting whips and the cash box, click on the link to the catalogue notes. The abject misery on the faces of the couple shows that they wish they had never spent ‘A Day at The Races’.

For more tales of trios of well-suited and hatted men, race over to Sepia Saturday and see what other Sepians have made of the prompt.

* courtesy of Dr.Macro.com

18 comments:

  1. I know many a person wishing they had stayed away from the horse races! We have a friend and a neighbor that used to run a few horses, at Canterbury Downs, not too far away. Going there to visit behind the scenes was my greatest adventure in horse racing. It is a pity that we won't know the outcome for those first three chaps. But the look on their faces certainly cry, go home quickly. I was hoping you'd have another mysteries in the painting with your post. I've always been quite fond of hunting hidden objects and the stories connected.

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  2. Wow, I never saw all that in that last picture, but now I will have to be more vigilant about looking at a picture, thanks to you.. :)

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  3. A truly enjoyable post! I love your imaginative description about what might be happening in that first photograph. I do hope they all won at least a little something rather than losing a bundle. I'm still searching for the items you mention in that last painting. Painters apparently like to tease us that way. As Rosie said, I think I shall have to start looking more closely at paintings from now on!

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  4. Long before I was born, the family story goes that my grandfather had a problem with betting on the horses. I'm sure he would worn his fedora down to the track, but it was probably only to the bookie's shop.
    Over the past few years I've been to special exhibits of Victorian paintings and they are a most fascinating art form. In the age before film these artists really invented a new way of storytelling.

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  5. Three great photographs and I do enjoy reading your explanations of the detail in paintings which we can so easily miss.

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  6. Definitely racing types in that first photo, even in a pinstriped suit. You have preempted next week's telescopes too.

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  7. It's one of the best Queen albums, and I haven't seen the film yet (it's on my towatch list). Thank you for another painting filled with clues. Even without knowing the details you can see there is a lot going on.

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  8. Great photos on theme, and love the references to "paintings as entertainment."

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  9. I almost posted one with a jockey but opted for family photos...I like that first photo of the men at the races...wonder if they made big winnings.

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  10. Somehow I still can't see the newspaper on the deck, my eyesight must be failing! These days, if we see a male in a smart suit and hat around here, 10 to 1 he's headed for the races, eg. Caulfield racecourse, which is just across the highway from where we live.

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  11. I get the feeling the man in the middle has been to the races before. From the look of his hat, I'm guessing he's lost many a bets and has taken that hat from his head and slammed it against his thigh more than once.

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  12. A trio of trios - well chosen, well presented and well described.

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  13. You could use this post for next week's prompt too.

    Marx Brothers are still funny.

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  14. The first photo is a really good match for the prompt.

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  15. I like the first on too, although I like to hear the stories hidden in those old paintings.

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  16. Very interesting images, they tell great stories.

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  17. The story behind the painting is fascinating!

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