World of 18th-century horse racing brought to life at Stubbs' exhibition

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The Independent Online

The 18th century heyday of racing will be the subject of the first exhibition in Britain to be devoted to the horse paintings of George Stubbs.

The National Gallery in London has announced that the show, due to open in June, will include works lent by the Queen, the Royal Academy and the Yale Centre for British Art. The subjects will include some of the most famous names in racing folklore, including Whistlejacket and Gimcrack, and the aristocrats who bred them.

Stubbs became the most successful British equine painter after undertaking 18 months' intensive investigations into horse anatomy. He hid himself away at a farmhouse in Horkstow, Lincolnshire, in the late 1750s to dissect horses at a time when not even the human form was fully understood.

His studies paid off when he began producing his heroic studies of horses just as British racing was entering a golden age. New thoroughbreds, nearly all descended from just three Arab stallions, were racing faster and raising stakes for owners and gamblers alike.

Susan Foister, director of collections, said the works would show Stubbs' development as a "fantastic" painter of horses as well as of the courses and stud farms where they were kept.

Stubbs became so famous that the Prince of Wales bought 14 of his works, two of which remain in the Royal Collection. One is a portrait of Lady Lade who began life as a servant in a brothel but rose to high society where she retained her risqué reputation. She was a prolific swearer as well as a fine horsewoman.

Ms Foister said: "This was the great age of horse racing and breeding and there were a great number of English aristocrats interested in the scientific breeding of horses. There was a huge amount of money to be made at Newmarket and York."

The heart of the show will be one of the National's most popular paintings, of Whistlejacket, which was painted around 1762 for the Marquess of Rockingham.

The show was organised by the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, as it was believed it would appeal to Texan horse lovers. Texan expertise has already provided new information for curators and confirmed Stubbs' impressive understanding of horses. "Stubbs and the Horse" opens on 29 June.