The Epsom Derby is not only the world’s greatest Flat race, it is also Britain’s biggest sporting day out – so aptly captured in oils by the Victorian painter William Powell Frith with his masterpiece ‘The Derby Day’.
Now, a leading Suffolk artist, Darren Bird, has followed in the footsteps of Frith by creating his own mirror image of the annual spectacle on Epsom Downs from a 21st century perspective.
When Frith’s painting (pictured above) was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1858, it proved hugely popular with the crowds who marvelled at the panorama of modern Victorian life.
Bird’s painting (pictured top) aims to capture the same atmosphere at the Investec Derby from a similar location on Tattenham Corner, reflecting the wide cross-section of society who attend the event.
The original painting shows rich city gentlemen in top hats along with elegantly dressed ladies enjoying the fun of the fair, surrounded by street entertainers, country folk, horse-drawn carriages, lavish picnics and spectators watching the racing action.
In the modern take on Derby Day, Darren has replaced carriages with open-top buses but the mix of top-hatted gents and families enjoying picnics has changed little in 150 years. More obvious 21st century additions include Clare Balding in her role as Channel 4 Racing presenter, electronic bookies’ boards and a helicopter whisking wealthy racegoers to the new state-of-the-art grandstand.
Frith’s original painting is now part of the Tate’s collection with a second, later, version held by the Manchester City Art Gallery. Darren’s version, which was commissioned by Great British Racing, was on display at Epsom Downs racecourse for the 2014 Investec Derby before being auctioned for charity with the funds raised going to Caroline’s Vision for Cancer, set up in memory of Epsom employee Caroline Beaumont who passed away in 2013.