The late Sir Henry Cecil's wish to see his legendary champion Frankel painted in oils in the style of George Stubbs has now been achieved by equine artist Nichola Eddery and the painting is about to receive its first public showing at the opening of the National Heritage Centre for Horse Racing and Sporting Art at Newmarket from 7th - 9th July.
Frankel, unbeaten in his 14-race career, was the highest-rated racehorse in the world in 2011. Many equine artists and photographers worldwide both then and since have striven to record his image for posterity. In 2010, at the end of Frankel's triumphant first season, equine artist Michael Jeffery had a unique vision to immortalize Frankel: to paint the horse in a setting that drew upon the George Stubbs painting of Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath. Sir Henry was enthused by the idea. Coincidentally, the Stubbs painting came up for sale a year after Jeffery had embarked upon what he had named his "Project Frankel". It sold at Christies for an astonishing 20 million pounds.
When Sir Henry Cecil visited Michael Jeffery's studio to discuss the early stages of the project, he was excited by two driving factors: firstly, the appeal of a Frankel homage in a Stubbs setting; secondly, Sir Henry was deeply impressed by Jeffery's wish to donate to charities one quarter of the painting's future sale profits. Both Sir Henry and Michael Jeffery were involved at that time in substantial cancer treatments.
Motivated by Sir Henry's support and encouragement, Jeffery received access to Frankel in stable-yard surroundings and on Newmarket racecourse and Heath; also to the horse's jockey Tom Queally, to stable staff, plus the supportive presence of Sir Henry at Michael Jeffery's studio. Sponsorship support was found soon after by local businessman and racing enthusiast Peter Merchant.
Tragically both Sir Henry and Michael Jeffery succumbed to cancer before the Frankel Project completion. Sponsor Peter Merchant subsequently asked internationally-renowned equine artist Nichola Eddery for her advice about retrieving the project and it was agreed that she would renew the idea and recreate the Frankel Project on everyone's behalf. Nichola was given access to all of Jeffery's notes, sketches, photography and preliminary oil-work. She was granted permission to visit Frankel, which allowed her take her own reference to aid the project. She spent a week making studies of the Rubbing Down House and the surrounding landscape from life and she met with Tom Queally who agreed to model for her. She also met with Lady Cecil to make enquiries about how Sir Henry would have liked to have been painted. She continued to meet with many others involved and then painted her own copy of Stubbs ‘Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath’, before producing the Frankel Portrait itself.
Nichola has responded brilliantly to what she called "an incredibly challenging
project" and she feels that she has now fulfilled Michael Jeffery's legacy. She has named the painting "Legends" to encompass horse, trainer and George Stubbs himself. Her recreation of Frankel's 2,000 Guineas with Frankel’s travelling head lad, Michael McGowan, stable lad Sandeep Guavaram, Frankel himself, jockey Tom Queally, trainer Sir Henry Cecil, and the runners (in order from left to right - 2nd Dubawi Gold, 3rd Native Kahn, 4th Slim Shadey, 5th Fury and Frankel’s pacemaker Rerouted) from the race in the Stubbs setting of Newmarket Heath with the Rubbing Down House as a background turns the project full-circle.