Hunt art show calls in police for protection

BY VALERIE ELLIOTT, COUNTRYSIDE EDITOR, THE TIMES

POLICE have been called in to protect a controversial art exhibition that features shots of the Prince of Wales riding out with the exclusive Beaufort Hunt. Anti-hunt campaigners have already warned exhibition organisers that they intend to mount a protest at the opening on Thursday of Bloodlines, a collection of painted photographs that chronicle the Beaufort, one of the country's oldest hunts.

Anderson Stewart Fine Art, the organisers, are concerned because many pro-hunt supporters, including members of the Beaufort, are to attend the function at the Candid Arts Trust in Islington, North London. James Anderson, one of the partners, said last night that he had approached the police for advice and they had alerted all necessary units. Maria Azino, founder of Candid Arts Trust, was adamant that the show should proceed. "This is a sensitive issue but we should not shrink from it," she said. "We feel the artist in this case has not taken an ethical view one way or the other; he has recorded the facts and it will allow people to make up their own minds." Last night, however, a spokesman for the Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals said: "This is a sickening sport and anyone who looks at it as art has to have questionable motives."
Per Fronth, the New York-based Norwegian photojournalist, defended his collection and said that he had taken care to offer an unbiased view of hunting. There were shots that would please many hunt supporters and evoke the beauty of the country pursuit, while others would be horrified by the somewhat sinister focus on the hounds and the meat for slaughter. Others might be amused by the sight of toffs in their finery tippling brandy. Mr Fronth, 36, spent more than two weeks with the Beaufort Hunt, which covers parts of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, and was allowed unrestricted access to the meets. Many of the images were taken as recently as November.

He had not intended originally to include portraits of the Prince, but he said last night that he was rather amused by the entourage around him. "I am in a Jeep following the hunt," he said. "The Prince is hunting for the fox and his security people are hunting him with antennae everywhere. I wanted to capture the humour of it." Mr Fronth said that he hoped that his pictures would make the pro and anti supporters take a different look at the hunt. "The issue is so stigmatised at present, between pros and anti, there is no grey zone, but I don't think it is as simple as a yes and no question," he said.He thinks that one of the most powerful images is of three men pulling the dead animal to the slaughterhouse to be cut up and fed to the hounds.

Brian Ashbee, the Cambridge-based art critic, has studied the pictures and said: "These images celebrate the hunt's lyricism, its energy, the manic exhilaration of its speed, while making us aware of its darker side."

The Beaufort Hunt was founded by the Dukes of Beaufort in the 17th century. Members of the hunt are recognised by their distinctive dress: dark blue coat with buff collar, though the hunt officers wear red coats. About 200 people ride out with the hunt at meets during the season, but in total there are some 2,000 members of the hunting club.