by Heidi Baumstark
Through his exquisite paintings and photographs, Crowell Hadden has mastered the art of capturing beautiful hunt scenes of horses and hounds. His work has graced homes, studios, magazines and newspapers, including the pages of Middleburg Life.
“His photos are fabulous. He really is an artist with a camera and a canvas,” said Vicky Moon, Middleburg Life’s editor and author of “The Middleburg Mystique” among her eight books. “I’ve been working with him for 20-plus years. All of his work is magnificent in every way.”
His paintings and pen-and-ink sketches can be viewed and purchased at The Four O’clock Fox, a Middleburg antique shop. He also restores old photos and takes photographic portraits of people or pets with studio lighting right in customers’ own homes.
How did it all start for Hadden, who now lives in The Plains?
He grew up on Long Island in a family of horse lovers and fox hunters. His stepfather, William F. Dobbs, was the master of New York’s Meadowbrook Hunt, originally “Meadow Brook Club,” the oldest, continuously operating polo club in the U.S. first established in 1881. Basically, he grew up riding and loving horses.
As a schoolboy in art class, he was always good at painting and drawing.
“I always wanted to paint horses, but they looked terrible,” he said.
So his stepfather encouraged him to copy paintings of 19th-century artists such as Sir Alfred James Munnings, known as one of England’s finest painters of horses. Other classic artists he tried to duplicate included J.F. Herring, John Ferneley, and Benjamin Marshall.
After seeing one of his paintings of a Munnings work, Dobbs urged him to break family tradition of attending Yale, and enroll in the prestigious Art Students League of New York. Hadden studied commercial art and thought that’s where his focus would lie.
The first two years of art school, Hadden drew nude models.
“That was in the early ‘60s—I was 18 years old. I’d always heard that was the best way to learn drawing.” And he was right.
To get to the Art Students League, he remembers driving to the Glen Head rail station in New York and taking the train to school. On the way home one day while riding the train, “I doodled a horse,” he recalled. “It was perfect. Suddenly, I could draw horses.”
In 1967, Hadden moved to Virginia and lived at Llangollen, the Upperville estate then owned by Elizabeth “Liz” Whitney Tippett, a wealthy socialite and philanthropist who owned horses, was an accomplished horse show rider and became a successful owner and breeder of race horses. She was friends with Hadden’s parents and was his godmother.
“I lived at a cabin at Llangollen,” he said. “I lived there for 30 years painting scenes of the farm and polo fields.”
Tippett also commissioned Hadden to copy all of her original horse paintings. Today, Llangollen includes 1,100 acres, is privately owned, and is under conservation easement.
Hadden later did a painting of Dobbs on a horse named Perennial with foxhounds all around him. Perennial came from Llangollen and Mrs. Tippett. Before long, Hadden started getting more commissions to paint other people and scenes.
“I started painting a J.F. Herring horse painting called St Giles,” he said. “It took me 900 hours to paint. A man from Sotheby’s came down and appraised it for more than $200,000. I signed it with just my first name, as many artists do.”
In the 1970s, Hadden would take photos and paint from the picture, which is how he meandered into serious photography. He also knew the late Howard Allen, the well-known Middleburg photographer who was a trusted friend of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and allowed Allen to make countless photos of her and her children.
“Howard developed my photos; we were very good friends,” said Hadden, who had come to the Middleburg area after President John F. Kennedy was killed in November, 1963. “I was painting when I heard he was shot. I dropped my brush. I couldn’t believe it.”
In 1995, he married Rebecca Hadden, and passed his love of art to his stepdaughter, Sophie Ruspoli, who studied at the Corcoran and Yale University School of Art. He gave Sophie her first manual camera and she now lives in New York working in graphics and photography. She also “installs” million-dollar paintings in art galleries.
The Haddens’ daughter, Ophelia Hadden, works with the Peace Corps in Mongolia.
“I’m so proud of her,” he said. “What an honorable thing to do.”
Hadden also was hired by real estate companies to take interior and exterior photos of prime properties. That was still back in the days of film photography.
“F-stops and shutter speeds—that’s what you need to know in photography,” he said. “You get a better knowledge of photography if you learn on film.”
Later, realtors started doing their own photography; but one time, a property wasn’t selling. “So, they hired me to shoot the house, and shortly after, it sold,” he said.
Hadden does mostly photography, including photographing over 300 weddings. But by this summer, he will be doing many more paintings—“my first love,” he admitted.
Peggy Stewart, owner of The Four O’clock Fox, recalled a woman who came into her shop and saw one of Hadden’s acrylics, a country scene of a cow standing in a stream.
“The woman couldn’t believe it was an acrylic; she thought for sure it was an oil painting,” Stewart said. Another time, she sold 14 of his pen-and-ink sketches of horses and hounds. “They bought all fourteen. His work is just very vibrant and very expressive.”
Over the years, Hadden has had three art idols: DaVinci, Michaelangelo, and Rembrandt. One time when wavering over what to do, he was challenged with this question: “What would DaVinci have done?”
That’s when he knew he had to paint it just the way the Renaissance artist might have done.
“I love horses, fox hunting and you can’t paint or photograph horses if you don’t know horses,” he said. “It’s really about the nobility of the beast.”
(Crowell Hadden’s website is www.crowellhaddenphoto.com and he can be reached at 540-532-2075. His photos can be viewed and purchased at www.crowellhadden.smugmug.com. His fine art paintings can be purchased at The Four O’clock Fox located at 15 E. Federal Street in Middleburg.