George Stubbs (1724-1806), “Whistlejacket,” 1762, oil on canvas, 292 x 246.4 cm. © National Gallery, London

In this ongoing series, Fine Art Today delves into the world of portraiture, highlighting historical and contemporary examples of superb quality and skill. This week we consider a stunning portrait of one of artists’ favorite animals.

In the spirit of the March/April 2017 issue of Fine Art Connoisseur magazine, which centers around the very best of equine art, this week’s feature portrait is by a man whose name has become virtually synonymous with superb paintings of horses.

More so than any of his other images of horses, before or after, George Stubbs’ (1724-1806) “Whistlejacket,” circa 1762, reads like a portrait of a human being. Set against an earthy, warm-toned background, Whistlejacket rears on his hind legs, leaping from the air as his form leaps from the canvas. With the painting void of any narrative or other subjects, the viewer is encouraged to muse on the animal’s individual physiognomy and character, which have been captured with an accuracy, knowledge, and sensitivity unparalleled in the history of art.

George Stubbs (1724-1806), “Whistlejacket,” 1762, oil on canvas, 292 x 246.4 cm. © National Gallery, London
George Stubbs (1724-1806), “Whistlejacket,” 1762, oil on canvas, 292 x 246.4 cm. © National Gallery, London

Foaled in 1749, Whistlejacket rose to notoriety in August of 1759 when he won a four-mile race for 2,000 guineas at York. According to the National Gallery, London, which owns the painting, “Stubbs’ huge picture was painted in about 1762 for the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, Whistlejacket’s owner and a great patron of Stubbs. According to some writers of the period the original intention was to commission an equestrian portrait of George III, but it is more likely that Stubbs always intended to show the horse alone rearing up against a neutral background.”

To learn more, visit the National Gallery, London.

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster
Andrew Webster is the Editor of Fine Art Today and works as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.

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