Colonel Thornton was a keen patron of contemporary British sporting artists, his commission in this instance resulting in one of Gilpin's grandest and most imposing works.
Jupiter, by the celebrated Eclipse out of a mare by Tartar, and a full brother of Volunteer, was a chesnut colt foaled in 1774. Bred by Dennis O'Kelly, Jupiter began well as a racehorse, winning two races worth 1,000 guineas each as a three-year-old, and The Fortescue Stakes at Newmarket in 1778, but broke down the following year after which he was retired to stud, advertised by O'Kelly as '115 hands and an inch high, master of 16 stone and of great length and bone in proportion'. His first winner, named Cardock, appeared as a two-year-old in 1787 and won fourteen races over seven years, while another significant offspring was Halkin, foaled in 1786, who had fifteen wins in six seasons. In 1789, the year he was bought by Colonel Thornton, Jupiter's stock won twenty-one races.
Sawrey Gilpin was born in Cumberland, the younger brother of the Rev. William Gilpin, artist and theorist of the picturesque. He was apprenticed to Samuel Scott before coming to the attention of the Duke of Cumberland, and thereafter concentrated on sporting subjects. Thornton (for whom see lot 94 for more details) was a key patron - Gilpin even stayed at Thornville Royal for a period - and commissioned perhaps the artist's most famous picture, the life-size scene of the Death of the Fox which caused a sensation when shown at the Royal Academy in 1793. Other notable patrons included the Duke of Bedford, Sir George Beaumont and Samuel Whitbread.