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Portrait of Golfing Legend Tom Morris Senior Comes Up for Sale

A portrait of Tom Morris Senior, by Henry Jermyn Brooks (1839-1925) has come up for sale at Bonhams of Edinburgh, with a guide price of £350,000 – £550,000.

Thomas Mitchell Morris, often known as Old Tom to distinguish him from his son of the same name, was born in 1821 in St Andrews, the home of golf, where his father worked as a caddy.

The painting showing Old Tom’s familiar stout figure was commissioned by London art dealers Dickinson & Foster, who produced an unknown number of prints, signed by both Brooks and Morris, in 1897. When it was displayed in Dickinson & Foster’s London studio, where it was apparently viewed by the Prince of Wales, the figure of Morris was painted life size, and the prints produced and sold by Dickinsons show him full length; the canvas was subsequently trimmed down at some stage in its history.

At the time the periodical Golf enthused that “the bronzed face is depicted with marvellous accuracy, and the artist has succeeded beyond cavil in catching the genial expression of frank benevolence which is such a fine trait of the old golfer’s character.”

‘He was painted by artists, honoured by poets, patronized by royalty, revered by The Royal and Ancient Golf Club and showered with praise and affection by golfers everywhere. Tom Morris was a sporting hero in an age of heroes, as well as golf’s first iconic figure.’ (David Malcolm and Peter E. Crabtree, Tom Morris of St. Andrews: The Colossus of Golf 1821-1908, Birlinn Ltd, 2012, p.XVIII).

Henry Jermyn Brooks was a noted portraitist, having portrayed Prime Minister William Gladstone, King Edward VII and cricketing great Ranjitsinhji. Brooks exhibited in the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition four times. His portrait of ‘Old Tom’, one of only three known contemporary oil paintings of Morris, went missing for several years, stored in the cellars of Killermont clubhouse. Morris had laid out the Killermont course in 1908, just before his death, and it remains the best-preserved of his many golf courses. The portrait was recovered in time for Killermont’s bicentenary in 1987.

Influential

Tom Morris Senior was one of the most influential sporting figures of the Victorian age, accompanying his father to St Andrews as a teenager, then taking a job with local golfing equipment manufacturer Allan Robertson. Robertson himself was a leading golfer, and teamed up with Morris to play doubles to great effect, notably when the duo turned the tide of an 1849 match against the Musselburgh Brothers, winning the £400 prize on the last hole.

“The Invincibles” split over Morris’ development of a gutta-percha or guttie ball, destined to consign Robertson’s feather balls to history.

Morris dominated the nascent Open Championship and remains the oldest man to win it at the age of 46. But in later years he developed a reputation as a poor putter, and gave way to his son, Young Tom, who tragically died at the age of 24, leaving Old Tom the grand old man of golf until his own death at the age of 86.

The Brooks portrait of Old Tom has been owned by Glasgow Golf Club since 1908, but for some years has been on loan to the R&A World Golf Museum in St Andrews and has not been displayed at the Club itself. Any money raised from the sale of the painting will be ring-fenced by the Club for future projects.

May Matthews, Bonhams Head of Scottish Art, said: “It is an immense privilege to be entrusted with this wonderful portrait. Tom Morris was not only a great figure in the world of golf but also a truly great Scot. It feels entirely appropriate that we should be offering it for sale during this year’s Open Championship at St Andrews, a course with which Tom Morris will always be so closely associated. Contemporary portraits of Morris are very rare – this is only one of three known to have been painted in his lifetime – and I expect great interest from collectors and golf enthusiasts the world over.”

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