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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.

Key facts
Artist George Stubbs
Artist dates 1724 - 1806
Full title Whistlejacket
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 in Gallery Not on display
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