Arts and culture
Whistlejacket: © The National Gallery
By Jennifer Alexander
Measuring almost by 3m x 2.5m, Stubbs' portrait of legendary racehorse Whistlejacket is certainly impressive. York City Art Gallery's assistant curator Jennifer Alexander told us that both artist and racehorse have strong connections to the city.
We are delighted to be able to display Whistlejacket, a near life-size portrait of a horse, at York Art Gallery for the first time. Both the horse and the artist, George Stubbs, have strong links with the city.
Whistlejacket, a thoroughbred racehorse, is best known for winning an important race in York in August 1759. His owner, the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, was an important political figure in Yorkshire and proposed the construction of the first grandstand on the Knavesmire in 1755.
A self portrait of George Stubbs
Stubbs lived in York for six years: his motivation for coming here may have been to study anatomy at the progressive new County Hospital. His acquired skills in observation and the human anatomy proved the foundation for his later work, studying the anatomy of the horse, which helped him create such realistic paintings.
It was because of these links to the city that York Museums Trust first approached the National Gallery about the loan of Whistlejacket – Stubbs’ masterpiece. The painting is one of the National Gallery's most iconic works; when they bought it in 1997 they projected the race horse onto the outside of the gallery and it literally stopped traffic. It is easy to see why.
The Trust has established a good relationship with the National Gallery in recent years and it is because of this that the loan of this extraordinary work was granted.
Jenny Alexander with Whistlejacket
We started planning for the arrival of Whistlejacket more than a year ago. Because of the significance and size of the painting, every aspect of the loan, transfer and display in York has been meticulously planned – from security to light levels. Its huge dimensions make moving the painting a difficult task.
The gallery was closed for half a day for its arrival - with the main gallery doors having to be removed to get the work in. We have also built a special reinforced part of the wall in the gallery to accommodate the magnificent painting.
With Whistlejacket as the centrepiece, other significant works support the exhibition theme around Stubbs’ time in York. The Royal Academy of Arts, the National Portrait Gallery and other collections around the country were among those who were able to loan works that sit brilliantly alongside Whistlejacket.
A pointer by George Stubbs
Twelve finished drawings from 'The Anatomy of the Horse' by Stubbs, loaned from the Royal Academy, demonstrate the lengths to which Stubbs went to understand every part of the horse’s anatomy.
They offer us an insight into how Stubbs was able to go on and create the exquisitely realistic Whistlejacket, but also works such as Gimcrack, loaned from a private collector, and Fighting Stallions, loaned from the British Sporting Art Trust.
Drawings and paintings from the York Museums Trust’s collection complete the exhibition, showing the 18th century York that Stubbs knew and loved.
Jennifer Alexander, assistant curator of fine art at York Art Gallery.
last updated: 03/06/2008 at 14:49
Stubbs and Whistlejacket in York is at York City Art Gallery until 31st August 2008.
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