Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tom Molineaux v. Tom Cribb

Tom Molineaux v. Tom Cribb

The lovely folks at Hero of Switzerland ( asked me to contribute to their annual group show, opening for two weeks at the end of this week at the VZ Gallery ( on Cheshire Street, off Brick Lane, E2. If you're about, please pop along.

The theme and title for the show is 'Heroes & Villains' and I started to look at bare-knuckle boxers, thieves and highwaymen, who straddle both camps by being both outlawed or criminal, but also folkloric heroes.

In the end I settled on this dyptich of the famous bare-knuckle boxers Tom Molineaux and Tom Cribb, who first met in December 1810 in a match that lasted a brutal 39 rounds and ended with Molineaux unconscious and Cribb declared the victor.

The rules of boxing at this time were simple and few:
  • Fights are with bare fists.
  • No kicking, biting, gouging, or elbowing.
  • Grappling and throws are allowed above the waist.
  • A round ends when one fighter is knocked down. Fighters are given 30 seconds to rest, and the next round begins
  • There are no judges to score the bout. The fight ends only with complete unconsciousness from one of the fighters or when a fighter quits.
Cribb was a hard, accurate puncher. While considered by some critics to be slow, Cribb's style was awkward and effective. He was a skilled man in the ring, and his style gave many of the best of his era considerable problems. He was also quite strong, a good wrestler (important in those days), and incredibly durable--he took massive beatings in many of his fights and refused to quit. Originally from Bristol, Cribb came to London as a teenager to work as a coal porter at Wapping. He was said he trained by punching the bark off trees!

Molineaux was a former slave from Virginia, America and was a tough, durable fighter. He learned English pugilism, of a sort, in order to fight in the brutal matches that slave owners arranged from time to time between their slaves. Molineaux's boxing career ended in 1815. After a stint in a debtor's prison he became increasingly dependent on alcohol, and died penniless in the regimental bandroom in Ireland three years later from liver failure. He was 34 years old.

The fight caused a national sensation and scandal, discussed feverously across the country in taverns, from pulpits and ven in Parliament. Not because of Molineaux's colour, nor his numerous affairs with white women but the much greater offense, in their eyes, of being an AMERICAN! The idea that a foreigner could take the sacred trophy of British sporting was unthinkable.

The paintings are painted in acrylic on mdf/ masonite panel and both measure 12" across by approx. 16" down. They are for sale at £300 the pair.


Clive Hicks-Jenkins said...

Congratulations Paul. Clearly getting those brushes out was a good thing!

If I were not in such a tearing hurry with my Martin Tinney exhibition deadline, Peter and I would come to the opening, but alas I must stay here and work work work.

I like your pugilists a lot.

marlyat2 said...

Me too! I can see the relation between this and the drawings, but the feel is very different, isn't it? Like them.

Interesting bits of history... And, as usual, I find that all our hackneyed ideas about the past are wrong, or at least somewhat wrong. Individual people's cases are always so...individual.

Paul Bommer said...

Thank you both kindly.

There is something very satisfying about painting, absorbing and immediate in a way my usual work isn't. So, I see this as just the beginning...

Clive Hicks-Jenkins said...

Then a damned fine beginning it is! What next I wonder.