Audio: George Stubbs's Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a trainer, jockey and stable lad
Audio: George Stubbs's Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a trainer, jockey and stable lad
George Stubbs, A.R.A. (Liverpool 1724-1806 London)
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On occasion, Christie’s has a direct financial int… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE WOOLAVINGTON COLLECTION
George Stubbs, A.R.A. (Liverpool 1724-1806 London)

Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a trainer, a jockey and a stable lad

George Stubbs, A.R.A. (Liverpool 1724-1806 London)
Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a trainer, a jockey and a stable lad
inscribed 'Gimcrack' (lower centre left)
oil on canvas
40 3/16 x 76¼ in. (102 x 193.6 cm.)
Commissioned by Frederick St. John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke (1734-1787), circa 1765.
Frederick St. John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke; Christie's, London, 11 March 1780, lot 82 (27 gns. to the following)
George St. John, later 3rd Viscount Bolingbroke, and by descent to
Vernon Henry St. John, 6th Viscount Bolingbroke; Christie's, London, 10 December 1943, lot 48 (4,200 gns. to Ellis and Smith).
Walter Hutchinson; Christie's, London, 20 July 1951, lot 122 (12,000 gns. to the Woolavington Collection).
70-71.lor, Stubbs, London, 1971, p. 43-5, pl. 32, details pls. 30-1 and 35-6.
C.A. Parker, Mr Stubbs the Horse Painter, London, 1971, p. 109.
V. Morrison, The Art of George Stubbs, London, 1989, pp. 57, 70-71.
J. Egerton, 'George Stubbs', The Dictionary of Art, ed. J. Turner, London 1996, XXIX, pp. 808-9.
D. Oldrey, The Jockey Club Rooms, A Catalogue and History of the Collection, London, 2006, p. 22, under no. 72.
J. Egerton, George Stubbs, Painter, New Haven and London, 2007, pp. 226-27, no. 70.
London, Hutchinson House, National Gallery of British Sports and Pastimes, 1948, no. 133.
London, Royal Academy, European Masters of the Eighteenth Century, 1954-5, no. 107.
Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Toledo, British Painting in the Eighteenth Century, 1957-58, no. 67.
Richmond, Virginia, Museum of Fine Arts, Sport and the Horse, 1 April-15 May 1960.
London, Christie's, Bicentenary Exhibition, 1966.
London, Tate Gallery, and New Haven, The Yale Center for British Art, George Stubbs, 1984-5, no. 55.
Madrid, The Prado, Pinturas Britanicas, 1988-9, no. 19.
London, Tate Gallery, In Celebration: The Art of the Country House, 1998-99, no. 35.
Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum, and London, The National Gallery, Stubbs & The Horse, 2004-05, no. 45.
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Miriam Winson-Alio

Lot Essay

Painted circa 1765, and preserved in superb condition, Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath was commissioned by Frederick, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke, one of George Stubbs' most important patrons, and has long been considered a supreme achievement of 18th century British painting. In this canvas, a synthesis of advanced scientific study, precocious gifts of draughtsmanship and a profound sense of humanity, the artist created an image which was both immediately relevant to his audience, and of transcendental beauty.

Described by Basil Taylor - who with Judy Egerton did more than any others to re-establish Stubbs' reputation in the 20th century - as 'one of his most beautiful pictures', the work is as epicentral to its epoch as any great masterpiece of Western Art. Here, on the 'wide stage' of Newmarket Heath, Stubbs brings all his insight and inventiveness to bear on a scene the focus of which is a singularly popular racehorse which, at that moment, had no equal. With the exception of the great Whistlejacket, acquired by the London National Gallery through Christie's in 1997, no work by the artist of comparable importance has appeared on the market for more than a generation.
In many ways Stubbs embodied the values of the wide-ranging intellectual movement of the Enlightenment, or Age of Reason: his was the enquiring mind that demanded to know and understand through observation based on evidence and proof. Constantly pushing boundaries, throughout his life he was preoccupied with experimental studies, yet this pursuit was always combined with a deep empathy for his subjects. An innate sense of nobility pervades each of the subjects in this work.

In his day, Stubbs' pictures commanded prices on a par with those of other leading artists, yet money and commercial success do not appear to have been his guiding lights, and his output was not particularly large. Nonetheless, the emergence of his talent on arrival in London in 1759 was well timed. Taylor described eloquently that world when he wrote:

' not only field sports but the more informal conditions and pleasures of rural society had become so important in the life-style of the landed classes that the opportunity had emerged for the development of a distinctive iconography. The great era of country-house building was reaching its climax, and many foreign visitors to England in the eighteenth century were impressed by the attachment to country life they discovered here among moneyed and sophisticated people. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the portrait had uniquely served the interests of family, rank and ambition. A different form of art with a wider range of subject could confer a similar honour upon the whole scope of material property and the social returns it provided; English painting in the first half of the century provides abundant evidence of its outgrowth. In the 1760s Stubbs was to be the most talented, responsive and versatile interpreter of such an iconography of rural life; his work should be seen in this context and not regarded - as it has been formerly - as one unusually refined and distinguished manifestation of sporting art.' (B. Taylor, Stubbs, London, 1971, p. 12).

George Stubbs: the emergence of his genius

Born in Liverpool in 1724, Stubbs would have immediately come into contact with animals (or at least carcasses) through his father's trade as a currier and leatherseller. He drew from an early age, teaching himself to work in oil, and by the early 1740s was painting professionally, his principal subject-matter being portraits. He moved to York in 1745 and was based in Yorkshire, painting, studying and teaching anatomy, and teaching drawing and perspective, until 1753. After a brief visit to Rome in the spring of 1754, he settled back in Liverpool for about two years.

The years between 1756 and 1758, when Stubbs was working at Horkstow, a hamlet near Hull in North Lincolnshire, on his Anatomy of the Horse project, are often seen as the crucible period from which he emerged a genius. Yet anatomy had long been a subject of intense study for the artist, from his youth in Liverpool, to York where, based at the County Hospital, he had drawn and engraved illustrations for Dr John Burton's An Essay towards a Complete New System of Midwifery (see fig. X). Nonetheless, his time at Horkstow unquestionably established a new focus, a new dedication, in which he took his work in this field to a different level. Assisted only by his common-law wife, Mary Spencer, 'so ardent was his thirst for acquiring experience by practical dissection,' wrote Ozias Humphry, his friend and fellow artist in his manuscript memoir of Stubbs, 'that he frequently braved those dangers from the putridity, &c. which would have appalled the most experienced practitioner'. Probably dating from these years is the small self-portrait on copper (Yale Center for British Art, fig X) showing a 'strong and resolute man' (Egerton), much the earliest image of the artist so far known, the next in date being Ozias Humphry's fine chalk drawing dated 1777 (Private Collection, fig. X). Forty-two of Stubbs' drawings, of immense precision and beauty, from the Horkstow project survive (London, Royal Academy of Arts, see figs X and X), of which eighteen are highly finished works made to be engraved for publication. Armed with these, Stubbs moved to London in 1758 or early 1759, and quickly caught the eye of such important aristocrats as the 3rd Duke of Richmond and the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, 'who' in Stubbs' words, 'delight in horses, and who either breed or keep any considerable number of them' (cited from the introduction to The Anatomy of the Horse). Commissions quickly followed (see section on Lord Bolingbroke's patronage later in this entry), yet establishing himself as the most sought-after painter of horses of the day did not fulfil Stubbs' ambition.

Taylor described a man who, by 1760, was 'ready with an abundance of pictorial ideas; in scope and productiveness this was the most fecund period of his life.' The 1760s bore witness to the range and originality of his work, 'the undeniable fact established by the pictorial evidence that he was the most versatile and exploratory painter of the time'.

By the close of 1762 Stubbs had painted his magisterial Grosvenor Hunt (Private Collection, Egerton, no. 29), and several of his best pictures for Lord Rockingham, including the sublime Whistlejacket (London, National Gallery, Egerton no. 34, fig. X). In works such as these, Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, and his series of Mares and Foals pictures, Stubbs showed how spectacularly he had advanced the field in which he worked, for these are essentially the animals to be found in the work of Gericault or Degas (fig. X). As Taylor observed, 'His power to express the identity of the individual creature in a manner which was artistically so original was certainly the reason for his immediate success. [His portraits] had a nobility of form which would even then have been associated with a more elevated historical style. This was only a part of his current originality, for Stubbs abolished the conventional accessories which [his forbears] had crudely transferred The landscape and accompanying figures also had a new distinction and truth.' (B. Taylor, Stubbs, London, 1971, p. 26).

Lord Bolingbroke's patronage of Stubbs

After Stubbs settled in London in 1758 or early the following year, he seems to have been brought to the notice of the leading English portraitist of the day, Joshua Reynolds, who may have consulted him about the charger in his ambitious portrait of Lord Ligonier (Fort Ligonier, Pennsylvania). Judy Egerton has argued that it was to Reynolds that Stubbs owed his introduction to an influential and rich group of patrons, all of whom had been painted by the former in 1758-60, and who also all belonged to the newly-founded Jockey Club. Among these was Frederick St. John, who while still a minor had in 1749 succeeded his father as 3rd Viscount St. John and inherited the recently rebuilt house at Lydiard Tregoze in Wiltshire, and two years later, on the death of his father's elder half-brother, Henry, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke, the statesman and philosopher, became 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke, that peerage of 1712 taking precedence of the 1716 St. John creation. Bolingbroke had in 1757 married Lady Diana Spencer, sister of Charles, 4th Duke of Marlborough, who like their first cousin, John, 1st Earl Spencer was also to become a patron of Stubbs.

Lord Chesterfield, who prided himself on his understanding of others, wrote of Bolingbroke as being of 'true and solid good sense, real taste and knowing a good deal'. Whether it showed solid good sense to sell his considerable inheritance at Battersea to his cousin by marriage, Lord Spencer, in 1763 is open to doubt, but in his championship of Stubbs, Bolingbroke did indeed show 'real taste'. His main interests were in racing and gambling. Known to his numerous friends at his London clubs of Brooks's and White's as 'Bully', he drank enough to be noticed even in a time of heavy indulgence. He was an impossible husband, perhaps made the more so by the evident intelligence of his wife, who after their divorce in 1769 married Topham Beauclerc and is still remembered for the drawings of which Horace Walpole had so high an opinion. It may not be altogether coincidental that another prominent member of the Jockey Club who patronised Stubbs at the same time as Bolingbroke, and may indeed have encountered him on his Grand Tour, Augustus Fitzroy, 3rd Duke of Grafton, was also involved in a spectacular divorce in the same year, and that both men refrained from suing the lovers of their wives for financial damages as they knew that evidence of infidelity could be brought against themselves: the two divorces, each of which required an act of parliament, caused considerable scandal and led the king, George III, to advocate altering the law to make it more difficult for errant wives to remarry. Bolingbroke himself found consolation elsewhere, not least with the courtesan Polly Jones, as we only know because she was robbed at his door. Bolingbroke's intemperance was inherited by his son, who in 1789 deserted the heiress he had married in 1761 and eloped with his mother's daughter by his stepfather. It was not until after his first wife's death that in 1804 he was able to marry again, significantly perhaps selecting a foreign bride, Baroness Hompesch.

Whatever his defects as a husband, the 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke was an inspired patron to Stubbs. As Judy Egerton suggests the Mares and Foals he commissioned (Egerton, no. 17) may be the earliest of the painter's treatments of the subject. The six horses are shown in what is presumably the park at Lydiard, with the river in the middle distance. The canvas must have been seen by other patrons in Bolingbroke's circle: Lord Rockingham, whose great house Wentworth Woodhouse was on an altogether different scale than Lydiard, not to be outdone, ordered a frieze of seven horses, which was paid for in 1762; the Duke of Grafton evidently commissioned a group of five which was exhibited in 1764; Lord Midleton commissioned another, based in part on the Rockingham group and thus evidently not intended to represent his own stud (the link here may have been William Chambers, the architect of Peper Harow, whom the painter had met in Rome); Lord Grosvenor a sublime group, again of five horses, including two foals; a group of five in the Duke of Cumberland's stud was exhibited in 1765; and a further group of five supplied to Col. The Hon. George Lane Parker was engraved in 1768, and subsequently recapitulated, with a different background, very probably for the Duke of Grafton (Egerton, nos.30, 42, 62, 63, 64, 88 and 89). Bolingbroke must have helped to set the fashion for pictures of the kind. It is revealing of the links between Stubbs' patrons that a full-length portrait of Rockingham and a reduced version of the Reynolds of the Duke of Cumberland were at Lydiard Tregoze until the 1943 sale.

Eventually financial embarrassments caught up with Bolingbroke, whose failure to secure a bill for enclosing land on Sedgemoor was no doubt a disastrous reverse. His reason was affected, and by early 1780 he was in a 'mad house' for palsey of the brain. Those responsible for his affairs sent three pictures by Stubbs and, rather surprisingly a Deposition given to Perugino with a few other old masters to James Christie. The 'Brood mares and foals' and 'A portrait of the famous Gimcrack, with a view of Newmarket course' were sold on 11 March 1780, as lots 81 and 82. Bolingbroke's elder son, George St. John, later 3rd Viscount Bolingbroke (1761-1814), bought each lot for 27 guineas and the pictures thus returned to Lydiard Tregoze, to remain there until 1943.

Bolingbroke was also among the first patrons to order portraits of individual racehorses from Stubbs. The sequence culminates in Gimcrack, but the pictures were not conceived in any sense as a series. What may have been the earliest, A bay mare belonging to Lord Bolingbroke with Lydiard Hall in the background (Egerton, no. 19, dated c. 1762-4), roughly square and perhaps conceived as an overmantle, remained at Lydiard until the 1943 sale. But the small Lord Bolingbroke's young bay colt , now identified as Hollyhock (Royal Collection, Egerton, no. 20) was given by the viscount to Jean-Louis Monnet in 1766, presumably in the hope of finding a French buyer for the horse, rather in the way that dealers and collectors of the time arranged to have pictures and drawings engraved for what we would term advertising purposes. The background in that picture was painted in France by Vernet and Boucher, which suggests that it was like that of three, and possibly a fourth, of the Rockingham canvasses originally left blank, quite possibly so that this could be filled in to suit the taste of the anticipated buyer for the horse.

By contrast Bolingbroke may have kept Lustre held by a groom (Yale, Egerton, no. 26, c. 1762, fig X), as this is probably the 'Portrait of a horse and groom' which was bought back at Christie's, 10 March 1780, as lot 70, for 5 guineas by George St. John, but subsequently left the collection. Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath cannot have been begun before the early summer of 1765 when Bolingbroke purchased the horse from William Wildman, and there must be a case for proposing that this exceptional composition followed the less ambitious and more conventional portrait of the horse supplied to Wildman, which was engraved in 1766 (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, Egerton, no. 71, c. 1765, fig. X).

That Bolingbroke promptly sold the horse to the French owner and picture collector, the Comte de Lauraguais (to whom he may have hoped to sell Hollyhock ), exemplifies his quixotic behaviour. The count himself was soon in embarrassed circumstances: Gimcrack had been passed on by 1768 to another intimate of Bolingbroke, Sir Charles Bunbury, and Lauraguais' pictures were sold by James Christie on 27 February 1772, Bolingbroke's friend Lord Carlisle buying Poussin's Inspiration of the Poet (Louvre) and Guercino's Tancred and Erminia (Edinburgh). Significantly, the Wildman Gimcrack is identical in composition with Turf with Jockey up, at Newmarket (Yale, Egerton, no. 72, c. 1766), which remained at Lydiard until 1943: Bolingbroke owned this horse by 1764, and in 1766 it beat King Herod at Newmarket, an event which Egerton suggests that the picture 'probably commemorates': Turf was lamed in 1767 and as a result retired. While in no sense a pendant to the earlier portrait of Lustre, the picture is of the same standard 'half-bishop' portrait size (50 by 40 inches, placed horizontally).

One other known picture by Stubbs may hypothetically be associated with Lord Bolingbroke, A red and white dog in a landscape (Christie's, 22 November 2006, lot 54; Egerton, no.168, c. 1775), first recorded in 1885 when it was lent to an exhibition by a Miss St. John, hypothetically either Mary Caroline, granddaughter of Bolingbroke's second son General the Hon. Frederick St. John, her first cousin Arabella Cecilia Frances (d. 1894), or one of the two unmarried daughters of the 3rd Viscount by his second marriage, Isabella or Antonia


Gimcrack rose from relatively obscure origins to become one of the most successful, and possibly the most popular, racehorse of the 18th century.

Bred by Gideon Elliot in Hampshire, far from the traditional sources of the best horses in Yorkshire, he was got by Cripple, a son of the Godolphin Arabian (see lot XX), out of Miss Elliott, and foaled in 1760. In 1764 he began by winning all his seven races despite being very small at fourteen hands tall. Sold to William Wildman, later owner of the great Eclipse, in 1765 Gimcrack's Newmarket career began with another victory, and he was immediately sold on for 1,500 guineas to Lord Bolingbroke. The horse recovered 250 guineas when his opponent withdrew from a match later that week and then won further matches of 1,000 guineas each against Rocket and Ascham. To general amazement, notwithstanding the fact that Gimcrack was carrying an extra 7lbs, the small horse's sequence of ten wins came to an abrupt halt when he was beaten by Lord Rockingham's Bay Malton in early October despite being favourite at 4-to-1 on. After a final 500 guineas match the same month had recouped some of Bolingbroke's losses, the horse was sold to Count Lauraguais and taken to France for over a year.

The scene in the background of the picture shows Gimcrack in Bolingbroke's black colours ridden John Pratt, almost the best jockey of the day, winning by some distance from three opponents whose colours suggest they belonged to Richard Vernon and Lord Grosvenor. That it is a trial rather than a race is shown by the fact that the shutters on the King's Stand have been swung up into place to block the unglazed windows, as well as by the absence of any officials or spectators. There are numerous pictures by lesser artists showing the shutters hanging down below the windows with excited crowds watching proceedings from the upper floor or grouped around the judge's box to the left. However each of the several depictions by Stubbs of the stand shows closed shutters, and only in this picture is there more than the figure of a single horse on view.

The trial depicted probably took place in late May or June 1765, before Gimcrack's great meeting with Ascham on 10 July. The chesnut horse in second place in Richard Vernon's white silks is probably Cheshire Dick, which that owner had just bought from Lord Grosvenor, while Grosvenor's bay in third is likely to be Boreas with his grey Cardinal Puff almost certainly bringing up the rear as he was the only grey he raced that season. Not only had Gimcrack himself run at the last Newmarket meeting in early May, but Cardinal Puff (then Jenison Shafto's but promptly sold to Grosvenor), Cheshire Dick and Boreas had between them won four of the eighteen races run that week. Rather less plausibly the Vernon chesnut might be Africus who had won twice at the first Newmarket meetings that year but had not run since, or Prophet, already second to Gimcrack when he had belonged to Wildman in April.

With such good form these horses provided ideal opposition in the trial for Gimcrack's match with Ascham, where the 1,000 guineas stake was only a fraction of what was eventually involved. Indeed the match provoked something of a public furore due to the amounts bet being so large that it stirred up an outcry against the propriety of events at Newmarket in general. With such sums at stake all those involved would have been very keen to test the strength of their champions - no doubt Ascham, who had yet to race in 1765, was similarly tried on another day.

At this period the Jockey Club ordained that notice needed to be given of a trial of this sort if it involved horses belonging to more than one owner. Once the time and place of the trial were registered it was an offence for any outsider to watch proceedings so that any tout would have had to be in hiding, perhaps behind the hedge bordering the Cambridge Road in the distance. The closed gate by the stand was the route giving access to the Heath for the carriages of those with the right to bring them onto the sacred turf on racedays.

In the foreground Gimcrack is being 'wisped' by a lad as part of the process of drying him off after the trial. One can surmise from the saddle under Pratt's arm that the little horse may have been carrying a considerable amount of weight, as indeed would be expected in the circumstances. In later life Pratt also excelled as a trainer, principally for Lord Grosvenor, winning no less than four Derbys and seven Oaks; indeed this total of eleven classics was never exceeded by anyone who trained in the days before the 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas were initiated early in the 19th century, thereby widening the scope for producing classic winners. No doubt the man holding Gimcrack is his trainer, but no record seems to have survived of his name. The absence of the three owners may be explained by the usual practice, which was also adopted for real races, of following up the horses on good class hacks as they came up the final five furlongs of the Beacon from the Rowley Mile to the finish.

Returned from France in 1767, the following year Gimcrack was sold to Sir Charles Bunbury, the new steward of the Jockey Club, a position he shared in 1770 with Bolingbroke and Shafto - it was a small world. Gimcrack seems to have been rejuvenated by his trainer after rather losing his form following the French expedition, however for his last two years in training the horse was sold again, this time to Lord Grosvenor, winning his final race in April 1771 before transfer to Grosvenor's stud near Newmarket. In that last race he put his former owner Sir Charles Bunbury firmly in his place by overturning the latter's good horse Bellario, who was 2-to-1 on in a field of nine. In all Gimcrack's eight year career he won twenty-five of his thirty-five races in England, and his French owner won a bet when he covered 22 miles in an hour. Given his relatively undistinguished pedigree and pony size it is perhaps not surprising that he was not a great success as a stallion. Eventually Grosvenor sold him again, this time for only 38 guineas in 1780, and thereafter trace of him is lost.
On 10 July 1765, the day of Gimcrack's famous match with Ascham, Lady Sarah Bunbury went to Newmarket 'to see the sweetest little horse run that ever was; his name is Gimcrack, he is delightful'. Hugely successful, the combination of his long career, courage, size, colour and rather unlikely background were to result in an almost unrivalled popularity. This in turn led to the formation of the Gimcrack Club, York, celebrating his memory with its annual dinner, and the horse's memorial race at York, with the result that his fame survives after two hundred and fifty years. He is the only horse to figure in five works in the Stubbs canon - even Eclipse managed only four appearances.

The genesis of the picture

Stubbs' first portrait of Gimcrack is presumably that now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (fig. X) commissioned by William Wildman, like Bolingbroke both an important patron of Stubbs and only briefly the owner of Gimcrack. Probably painted earlier the same year as Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath with a trainer, a jockey and a stable lad, the jockey in both pictures is John Pratt, although in the Fitzwilliam picture he wears Wildman's colours of red jacket and black cap. The Wildman picture was believed to have been painted to commemorate Gimcrack's first major win at Newmarket, over the Round Course for a 50 plate on 9 April 1765.

Presumably pre-dating both of these works are two small Newmarket landscape studies (figs. X and X), which together form a unique element in Stubbs' oeuvre as the only pure landscape studies to survive. Egerton describes Stubbs' recognition of the 'iconic significance of these essentially simple buildings' in 'these two small, highly charged paintings', which 'testified, silently and permanently to victories won and contests endured, in a way that the presence of momentarily excited spectators - an aspect of racing that seems to have repelled Stubbs - never did. Stubbs' focus on these inglorious Newmarket landmarks was a masterstroke in establishing the genius loci.'

Kept in his studio, he referred back to them for the rest of his career; the work now in the Tate is clearly of fundamental import to the two greatest racing pictures the artist painted: Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath and his monumental Hambletonian, rubbing down exhibited thirty-five years later in 1800 (Mount Stewart, The National Trust, fig. X).

Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath is powerful testimony to both the originality and ambition brimming in Stubbs in these years. On a canvas marginally wider than that on which he painted Lord Bolingbroke's Mares and Foals , the artist created 'he most finely designed of all his Newmarket scenes' (Egerton). Taylor sees that, 'balancing realism and abstraction, the painting's open, apparently loose, structure conceals the composition's formality and the exact placing of its parts, while the vital realism of the horse and men obscures the essential artificiality of Stubbs' pictorial idea.' ' the group which comprises the horse, trainer and stable lad silhouetted against the building and forming one distinct part of the image is contained within a rectangle formed by the painting's vertical dimension and a line which is the golden section of the canvas' length.'

The device of showing two scenes in one picture is unique in Stubbs' oeuvre. Clearly aware of its use by artists of a generation earlier such as Wootton and Seymour, Stubbs employs the space afforded by his wide canvas with 'an astonishing disregard for convention' (Egerton), placing the principal portrait of the subject on the far left hand side of the composition, with one of his triumphs set as a backcloth in defiance of the rules of time and space.

So widely revered as a portraitist of animals, Stubbs' genius for capturing likenesses of people - particularly, one might feel, of 'the common man' - is shown superbly. The character and humanity in each of the figures is palpable, the detail applied with the technical accomplishment of a miniaturist.

A second version of Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath belonged to Richard, 1st Earl Grosvenor, probably the richest man in England, and may well have been commissioned in or soon after 1769 when he bought Gimcrack. Alternatively it may be that Grosvenor, as keen a gambler as Bolingbroke, had something of a coup in return for his contribution to the trial shown in the background of the picture, and therefore wanted to commemorate the event. Sold by his son, the 2nd Earl, in 1812, that picture eventually passed to the great 19th century racing figure Admiral Rous, who left it to the Jockey Club in whose rooms at Newmarket it still hangs.
Stubbs' third and final portrait of Gimcrack was commissioned by Lord Grosvenor after the horse had been retired to stud (?1770, Private Collection, fig X). His coat by now almost white, he is shown held by a stud hand in Grosvenor's yellow livery at Oxcroft, Cambridgeshire; a second version of the picture was painted by the artist twenty years later for the Turf Gallery (Private Collection).

Newmarket and 'The Sport of Kings'

Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath probably gives a better insight into the nature of racing at Newmarket, and its renaissance after a serious setback in the middle of the 18th century, than any other. That this should be so is all the more remarkable for the scene depicted by Stubbs being in fact not a race but rather a trial and including only one identifiable person.

Newmarket's history in racing terms began soon after King James I first visited the town in February 1605 to course hare on the Heath. He returned often and racing soon became part of the itinerary of such visits. The Long Course, the earliest course of which we know anything, ended near the site of the building in the background of this picture, although the stand we see is a later addition, almost certainly dating to the reign of King Charles II. Known as the King's Stand, both it and the stables in the foreground, called the King's Stables or simply the Rubbing House, appear regularly in pictures by Wootton and others executed in the early 18th century, and survived well into the 19th century.

By the time King Charles I succeeded in 1625, racing was replacing hunting and hawking as the principal reason for the Court to decamp en masse from Whitehall to rural Suffolk at regular intervals. Under the Commonwealth, however, racing was prohibited for fear of its meetings giving cover for insurrection.

From the time of King Charles II's first visit to Newmarket in 1665, racing prospered as never before and high class sport became increasingly central on the Heath. Whilst most of the horses raced were bred in Yorkshire, the backing of the court guaranteed that Newmarket Heath joined York as the main stages on which they were tested. The King not only owned horses but sometimes rode them himself, with a fair measure of success.

Long before the accession of King George I in 1714, the main course now known as the Beacon had been reduced in distance to only the final four miles of the original eight mile Long Course. As the years passed the benign indifference of the early Hanoverians saw the steady decline of racing both generally and at Newmarket in particular. By 1750 that decline saw less than 10 of the sport in England, by numbers of races or prize money, decided on the Heath. However, the establishment of the Jockey Club, probably in 1750, radically improved the governance and organisation of racing at Newmarket (two of the shrewdest operators involved in its foundation, Richard Vernon and Jenison Shafto, are quite by chance linked to this picture through the beaten horses behind Gimcrack). Within ten years of its foundation the Jockey Club was in complete control of racing at Newmarket and the scale and quality of the sport on offer was revolutionised. From under 10 per cent in 1750, by the time that Gimcrack eventually retired to stud in 1771, the Heath saw some 35 per cent of all the races run each year in England and about 70 per cent of the total national prize fund, despite the fact that activities elsewhere had doubled over that fruitful period of the sport's history. The place had become a magnet for those in the fashionable world who could afford to cut a dash and also for a good many who couldn't but tried anyway; some of the financial crashes traceable to activities on the Heath were spectacular. Horace Walpole declared that 'half the nobility and half the money of England went to Newmarket' and, speaking of the Duke of Cumberland, George III's uncle, who in 1765 was gravely ill, reported that he 'has ordered his equipages for Newmarket, and persists in going there if he is still alive'.

The picture's 20th century history

Offered for sale at Christie's in 1943 by Lord Bolingbroke's descendant, Vernon, 6th Viscount Bolingbroke, the picture was bought by Walter Hutchinson, founder of the National Gallery of British Sports and Pastimes. A publisher and printer, Hutchinson formed a remarkable collection of British and sporting pictures which were dispersed in a sale at Christie's in 1951. This included no fewer than twelve works by Stubbs although Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath was unquestionably the most important example, and sold for the exceptional sum of 12,000 guineas.

In 1951 the picture entered the Woolavington Collection, the core of which was formed at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries by Sir James Buchanan, Bt., afterwards Lord Woolavington, a philanthropist and successful racehorse owner who had made his fortune in the whisky industry. Originally assembled at Lavington Park in Sussex, the collection later moved with Woolavington's descendants to Cottesbrooke Hall in Northamptonshire. One of the finest collections of sporting art in the world, it includes other pictures by Stubbs, as well as exceptional works by Marshall, Ferneley, Herring and Munnings.
We are very grateful to Judy Egerton, whose extensive work on Stubbs has been much drawn upon in this entry, and to David Oldrey for sharing with us his unrivalled knowledge of racing history

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