Two outstanding paintings have recently gone on display on long term loan in the Packard Galleries. Both from private collections, they have rarely been on public display before.
Jenison Shafto’s racehorse Snap, held by Thomas Jackson, joins seven other paintings by the famous 18th century artist in the Packard Galleries, which displays a selection of the finest sporting art works in Britain. This painting shows Stubbs work in the early stages of his career experimenting still with form, but showing that expert knowledge and dexterity with which he became renowned.
Today Stubbs is known and loved for his anatomically accurate and sensitively realistic portraits of imperious horses and the attendant cast of dogs and humans. He immersed himself in the life of the horse and was fascinated not just by their outward appearance but by how they were built and he studied their anatomy ceaselessly. As a subject painter he moved from portraits of people to horses and then to the wild and exotic in the form of lions, tigers and zebras.
This work is likely to have painted during Stubbs’s first visit to Newmarket in 1762 or 1763 when he studied the horse Snap, and the figure of Thomas Jackson at Shafto’s stud farm, eight miles south west of Newmarket. The groom Thomas Jackson was one of Jenison Shafto’s main stable jockeys and rode for the trainer until near the end of his life. In this painting he is shown standing confidently with a green velvet coat which complements the shining coat of Snap. The background is not topographically accurate but rather illusionistic and designed to suggest an arcadian landscape in which to breed and train racehorses.
Shafto, a founder member of the Jockey Club, purchased the dark bay Snap (foaled in 1750) from the estate of Cuthbert Routh, and is here shown about twelve years old. Snap first raced at Newmarket in 1756 and had winnings of 2000 guineas that year. He was retired to stud at the age of seven because he was considered such a good breeding prospect and consequently produced 261 winners over 21 years, including Goldfinder.
This important portrait represents one of the most colourful sportsmen of his generation. Colonel Thornton (self-styled Prince of Chambord and Marquess Dupont) was a dedicated huntsman, as well as a racing, shooting, angling, hawking and hunting and a patron of sporting art. He was one of the first to investigate the sporting possibilities of the Scottish Highlands and went on a tour in the 1786, later published as ‘A Sporting Tour through the Northern Parts of England and Great Part of the Highlands of Scotland,’ in 1804.
When he was twenty Thornton inherited a large fortune, and in 1789 he purchased Allerton Maulevrer from the Duke of York for £110,000 (won by gambling), renaming the estate Thornville Royal in Knaresborough, Yorkshire. There every sport was practised. However, his profligate lifestyle, which involved the upkeep of two London houses meant that he was eventually forced to sell his estate and move away from Yorkshire to Wiltshire. He leased Spye Park and filled it with portraits of himself from the leading sporting artists of the day as well as indulging his love of falconry.
For shooting he had ‘a greater quantity of sporting apparatus of the most valuable and curious manufacture than any other sporting gentleman in England’ – and he favoured air weapons and multi-barrelled guns and rifles, including examples with seven, twelve and fourteen barrels (the second of these depicted in this portrait).
Reinagle is best known as a portraitist and he often collaborated with Sawrey Gilpin. In this portrait, it is likely that Reinagle painted the figure of Thornton while Gilpin was responsible for the landscape background and dog.
Dr Patricia Hardy, Packard Curator said;
“The National Heritage Centre for Horseracing & Sporting Art is very pleased that these two paintings have come to Newmarket. The Stubbs work demonstrates the historical importance of the location to the training and breeding of racehorses here and the Portrait of Colonel Thornton by Reinagle and Gilpin brings a colourful sporting figure to life in the Galleries. It is very generous of the two private collections to lend us these works.”