Sawrey Gilpin was an important innovator in the history of English sporting art. He revitalized the tradition established by John Wootton and James Seymour, adding an atmosphere and dramatic quality to his paintings of sporting scenes, animals, historical and literary subjects.
He was born at the Manor of Scaleby Castle which had been the family seat for four generations. His earliest tuition was from his father, a Lieutenant and amateur artist. He was apprenticed to the topographical painter Samuel Scott in Covent Garden in 1749, with whom he remained for nine years.
By 1758, Gilpin had begun to concentrate on sporting paintings and his work soon attracted the attention of the Duke of Cumberland, who commissioned him to portray the horses in his studs at Newmarket and Windsor. Later distinguished patrons included Colonel Thornton of York, the most celebrated sporting figure of the late 18th century and early 19th century, for whom he painted Death of a Fox (engraved by J. Scott, 1811); and Samuel Whitbread, M.P.
As an animal painter, he collaborated with many artists including Turner, Marlow, Romney and Zoffany. Amongst his pupils were Gooch and Garrard, the latter whom married his eldest daughter Matilda. Gilpin exhibited at the Society of Artists from 1762-1783, where he was elected President in 1774, and at the Royal Academy from 1786-1807, where he was elected a Royal Academician in 1797.
Highly acclaimed during his own lifetime, the critic for the Morning Herald commented in 1794: 'Mr. Gilpin is inferior to Mr. Stubbs in anatomical knowledge, but is superior to him in grace and genius.'