Keeneland and Cross Gate Gallery of Lexington have formed a new company that will hold its first sporting art auction in November of this year.
The company, called The Sporting Art Auction, was introduced March 26 at a press conference at Keeneland. The concept was proposed by Cross Gate Gallery owner Greg Ladd, a Lexington native who has been in the art business for about 40 years.
Ladd noted major auction houses no longer have auctions solely for sporting art. An annual auction at the Keeneland sale pavilion will fill that gap, he said.
The art will be displayed at Keeneland during the September and November horse sales and the October race meet. The partners hope to have 150-200 lots on offer.
"We're taking the goods to the public," Ladd said. "It's a hustle, but we'll have quality inventory. We've got the best auctioneers and the best clientele, and we plan to design a top-line (printed) catalog. We want it to be like a coffee table book."
Keeneland president and chief executive officer Bill Thomason said the endeavor makes sense from the standpoint of Keeneland's abilities and its mission. He said that for the last four to five years, the company hasn't been able to contribute as much money to the community from its foundation as it would have liked.
"We saw this as an opportunity to do something good for the industry and community," Thomason said. "Everything from the art auction will go to our charitable giving arms. This is a project I'm very proud of.
"We know our core business and what Keeneland represents. We're taking a long-term approach to this. It's still in the develop stages, but we plan to make it a major community event."
The date for the art auction will fall just after the Keeneland November breeding stock sale.
Auctioneer Walt Robertson, vice president of sales at Keeneland, said horse people generally are passionate about equine art. Keeneland, he said, sells horses to about 1,000 different entities from about 50 countries in a given year, and those people will be introduced to the art on display on the grounds before the auction.
"We're confident this has the potential to be the most important sporting art auction in the world," Robertson said.
The lots will be primarily from modern British and American painters and sculptors. Ladd already has visited Great Britain, California, and Chester County, Pa., in search of art that can be consigned. A variety of ways to bid will be offered, officials said.
Ladd has secured two major pieces for the auction, including "Blue Prince," a painting by Sir Alfred Munnings that was commissioned by Thoroughbred owner and breeder Walter Jeffords. Munnings, who died in 1959, is regarded as one of the world's finest equine painters.
He also obtained a mural commissioned by Charles W. Bidwill Jr. for Sportsman's Park in 1976 done by the late LeRoy Neiman, an American artist known for his brightly colored paintings depicting athletes and sporting events.