The Leedes Arabian was foaled in circa 1695. He belonged to Englebert Leedes and passed, on Englebert's death in 1703, to his son Edward, along with the stud and North Milford Hall. As a stallion, he was very influential, almost on a par with the more well-known Byerley and Darley. Lady Wentworth once calculated that his name appeared over 100,000 times in the extended pedigree of the 1935 Triple crown winner Bahram. The great stallion Herod, although separated by only about half a century, had three lines of The Leedes Arabian in his pedigree. One of The Leedes Arabian's progeny was Leedes, also painted by Wootton, who was bought by Queen Anne for 1,000 guineas. Leedes was out of the mare Spanker, who also produced the full sisters Charming Jenny and Cream Cheeks, the latter was the grand dame of the great Flying Childers.
Described by the Earl of Egmont in 1734 as 'the best painter of horses in England', John Wootton was the pre-eminent painter of sporting and landscape subjects for most of the first half of the 18th Century.
The date of Wootton's birth, in Snitterfield, between Warwick and Stratford-on-Avon, is believed to be 1682. Little is known of his family although as a young boy he may have served as a page to Lady Anne Somerset, daughter of the Duke of Beaufort, on her marriage to Thomas, later 2nd Earl of Coventry in 1690. From these families he appears to have received encouragement to take up painting, and perhaps also the introduction to his master, the Dutch painter Jan (or John) Wyck (1652-1700). Wootton was in London by 1706 when he married Elizabeth Walsh, although she died only five years later. His second marriage, in 1716, was to Rebecca Rutty, by whom he had two surviving children, a son Henry, and a daughter Elizabeth. He was a founder-member of the Academy of Painting and Drawing in 1711, and by 1717 had been elected a steward of the Virtuosi Club of St. Luke's.
Wootton's early works, particularly his battle and hunting scenes, were much influenced by Netherlandish painters such as Wyck, Siberechts and Dankerts, yet he was quick to assimilate the lessons of an established painting tradition with the changing demand of his patrons. Hence highly ambitious works such as The Warren Hill, Newmarket (eg The Bute Collection of Sporting Pictures, Christie's, London, 27 May 1999, lot 4) of circa 1715, represent a distinctive new subject from within the sporting genre. His classic single-horse portraits, such as the present picture, were in themselves an original formula presenting this recently evolved breed in a classic profile pose, with the form elegantly contoured against a decorous landscape setting (A. Meyer, John Wootton, Catalogue for the Exhibition, London, 1984, p.14).
It is important to recognise Wootton's versatility as an artist for in addition to landscapes and military subjects, he is known to have painted an appropriate pendant to Henry Hoare's picture by Claude, and copied a Dughet sea-piece for the Duke of Marlborough. He was certainly an astute man as George Vertue recorded:
'Mr. J. Wotton [sic] by his assiduous application & the prudent management of his affairs rais'd his reputation & fortune to a great height being well esteemed for his skill in landskip paintings amongst the professors of art & in great vogue & favour with many persons of ye greatest quality, his often visiting of Newmarket in the seasons produced him much imployment in painting race horses, for which he had good prices, 40 gns. for a horse and 20 for one of a half-leng cloth.'
Wootton's many patrons included King George II, Frederick, Prince of Wales, Sir Robert Walpole, and many of the most prominent members of the aristocracy. The enormous entrance hall paintings he executed for Althorp, Longleat and Badminton happily all survive in situ. While many of his pictures are indeed still to be found with the families for whom they were painted, he was a prolific artist which has enabled collectors around the world to enjoy his work and appreciate his significant contribution to the development of a native school of painting in early 18th Century Britain.