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George Stubbs, Whistlejacket

Key facts
Full title Whistlejacket
Artist George Stubbs
Artist dates 1724 - 1806
Date made about 1762
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 296.1 × 248 cm
Acquisition credit Bought with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, 1997
Inventory number NG6569
Location Room 34
Collection Main Collection
George Stubbs

One of the most important British paintings of the eighteenth century, Whistlejacket is probably the most well-known portrait of a horse. It is also widely acknowledged to be George Stubb’s masterpiece. The Arabian chestnut stallion had won a famous victory at York in 1759, but by 1762 had been retired from racing. He belonged to the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, who commissioned Stubbs to paint a commemorative life-size portrait of his prize horse on a scale that was more appropriate for a group portrait or historical painting.

Stubbs excludes any reference to a rider, riding equipment or location, painting the magnificent rearing horse against a neutral background of pale gold. Despite suggestions that a rider was originally planned, Whistlejacket was always meant to be unmounted. Free from human control, the riderless horse is the embodiment of unrestrained natural energy, a free spirit that prefigures Romanticism’s celebration of nature.

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