The oil painting titled ‘Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, With a Trainer, a Stable-Lad, and a Jockey’ (Gimcrack mit einem Reitknecht auf Newmarket Heath) painted by the British painter George Stubbs (1724-1806), best known for his paintings of horses, depicts Gimcrack, one of the most reputed racing horses in history.
This George Stubbs masterpiece, in the same canvas, shows two scenes associated with Gimcrack – one scene on the right (background) showing Gimcrack winning a race by several lengths ahead of three other racing horses, and another on the left (foreground) showing him with his jockey, the stable-lad and his trainer.
The painting ‘Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath…’ was commissioned in 1765 by Frederick St John, the 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke, who owned the horse. In 1943, the painting was sold for the first time by the Bolingbroke family to the founder of the National Gallery of British Sports and Pastimes Walter Hutchinson. In 1951 the painting was sold again at an auction for £12,600, a huge sum of money at those times, to the liquor magnate and philanthropist Lord Woolavington.
On 5 July 2011, at the auction at Christie’s International in London, the Gimcrack painting was sold by the trustees of the late Lord Woolavington’s collection of sporting art to an unidentified buyer for $36 million (£22.4 million), setting a world record price for a Stubbs painting.
The earlier record for a Stubbs was £10.1 million fetched by his work titled Brood Mares and Foals (1767), painted at the peak of his career, which was sold in December 2010 at Sotheby’s in London to an undisclosed buyer.
Stubbs, who painted mostly portraits in the early phase of his career, after a visit to Italy in 1754, took interest in human anatomy that he had studied at the York County Hospital from 1745 to 1751. A set of illustrations for a textbook on midwifery which was published in 1751 is among one of his earliest surviving works.
In 1756 he rented a farmhouse in Horkstow village in Lincolnshire, and lived there for 18 months dissecting horses. In 1766, after moving to London, he published a book titled ‘The Anatomy of the Horse’. Perhaps for this book, he is often described as the greatest artist-turned-scientist since Leonardo da Vinci.
Gimcrack, the subject of this painting, was an English thoroughbred race horse that was the most admired stallion of the century. He was a small grey horse with a height of only 14 hands, but it won its first race at Newmarket and went on to win 27 of the 36 races in a career spanning 7 seasons before he retired after winning the last race at the age of eleven in 1771.