Ways of Seeing: W.A. Wollen's 'The Roses Match'

W.A. Wollen's 1895 painting, The Roses Match (seen here on the cover of Rugby's Great Split), occupies an interesting place in the culture of both rugby league and rugby union. It hangs at Twickenham - and there is a copy at Otley rugby club - but it actually belongs to the glory days of pre-1895 northern rugby and depicts the origins of the Northern Union. 

It is a representation of the 1893 Yorkshire versus Lancashire match held at Bradford's Park Avenue ground. The myth surrounding the painting is that players who joined the Northern Union were painted out. It is not true - not least because almost all of those depicted who were still playing in 1895 became Northern Union players.

My article 'Myth and Reality in the 1895 Split' (which can be downloaded here) puts the painting in context, while the late Piers Morgan's excellent short article (download from here) adds more specific detail about the painting itself. The Museum of World Rugby at Twickenham has also posted a very interesting article about 'The Roses Match' on their blog here.

It is not the only painting of nineteenth century rugby to which myths have become attached. For years the painting below from the 1870s, which also hangs in Twickenham, was described as being of Wasps versus Cambridge University. 

It isn't. It is actually Halifax versus York in the first Yorkshire Cup final played in 1877 and staged at the Whitehall Road ground at Holbeck in Leeds. More than anything else, it was the Yorkshire Cup that triggered the explosion of interest in rugby across the north of England that led to its great popularity - as depicted in the Wollen painting - and which would lead to the formation of the Northern Union in 1895.