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Study of Dogget’s Coat and Badge Winner, 1930

Watercolour on paper. Full length study of a Dogget’s Coat and Badge winner. Signed lower right R. Wymer. Framed and glazed.

Doggett's Coat and Badge is the prize and name for the rowing race for apprentice Watermen held every year since 1715. The 4 miles 5 furlongs (7,400 m) race is held on the River Thames between London Bridge and Cadogan Pier, Chelsea. Originally, it was raced in the boats used by watermen to ferry passengers across the Thames. Today it is raced at a date and time in late July that coincides with the incoming (rising or flood) tide, in contemporary single sculling boats.

The winner's prize is a traditional Watermen's red coat with a silver sleeve badge displaying the white horse of the House of Hanover and the word ‘Liberty’, in honour of the accession of George I to the throne in 1714. Monetary prizes are also made by the City of London livery company, the Fishmongers'. The Fishmongers’ Company crest can be seen on the blade of the single sculling oar held by the figure. In addition to the prizes received, winning Doggett's Coat and Badge in the 18th and 19th centuries meant more trade to the talented Waterman. While this is no longer the case, winning the Doggett's Coat and Badge is still seen as very prestigious.

Thomas Doggett was an Irish actor and comedian who became joint manager of Drury Lane Theatre. He relied heavily upon the Watermen of the Thames, who were then the equivalent of the contemporary Uber driver, to convey him between the various plying stairs near his workplaces in the City of London and his residence in Chelsea. In 1715, Doggett was rescued by a Watermen after falling overboard whilst crossing the Thames near Embankment. In gratitude for his rescue, he offered a rowing wager to the fastest of six young Waterman in their first year of freedom, over the course between The Swan pub at London Bridge and The Swan pub at Chelsea. 

Major Reginald Augustus Wymer (1849-1935) was by turns a soldier, artist, Deputy-Chief Constable of Hertfordshire and father to a wayward son. Born in Upper Berkeley Street, Westminster, the youngest son of General Sir George Wymer, K.C.B., and his wife Emily, daughter of Sir C.F. Crespigny, he was a commissioned into the 91st (Argyllshire) Highlanders in 1870. He gave early proof to his creative talents by designing costumes for  the D’Oyly Carte comic opera Ruddigore that premiered at the Savoy Theatre in 1887. These designs are now part of the D’Oyly Carte Archive held by the V&A. The problems with his son, also named Reginald, began after the latter’s return from the South African War and the pawning of a diamond brooch belonging to an actress. A widely reported court case ensued in which the penniless Reginald junior, a former subaltern in the Argyll & Surtherland Highlanders, was found to be the guilty party. Reginald junior’s troubles continued with his attempts to earn a living by betting on horses, and peaked with a sentence of three months’ hard labour for trying to defraud a clergyman. Throughout these dramas, Wymer senior continued as a reserve officer of the 3rd Bn. Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. He retired from the Army in 1905, but returned during the First World War as a captain on the General List. His military pictures were widely collected, and his patrons included Queen Victoria, Edward VII and Queen Mary, who on 28 May 1932 visited Fortnum & Mason 'to see charming pictures by Major Wymer'. In 1937 Fortnum’s gift department produced an advertisement for Dresden  porcelain figures designed by ‘the late Major Wymer’ and thus indicating that the present watercolour is perhaps design for the porcelain figure of a Dogget’s Coat and Badge winner in similar pose made by Sächsische Porzellanmanufaktur Dresden (Saxon Porcelain Manufactory in Dresden).   

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