This is one of the most famous works by the English romantic painter Georges Stubbs (1724 – 1806), in fact this large 292 x 246 cm canvas occupies a more prominent space in the room of the National Gallery in London where it is exhibited, and it is one of the most popular and beloved fabrics of the London art gallery.
The work was done in 1762, and is considered to be his pinnacle work within his long production of paintings dedicated to horses and other animals. In fact, he received commissions to portray these animals or others such as dogs, and he was also commissioned more fantastic canvases in which he presented fictional fights, such as a wild horse attacked by a lion, something very typical of the time ofRomance.
Anyway, during 1762 he spent several months in a manor house in South Yorkshire owned by the Marquess of Rockingham, who commissioned him to paint this Whistlejacket, as this specimen was the Arabian stallion of his stud farm, and was known as a horse as large as life.
Rockingham was passionate about horses, and also a connoisseur of art, and between the aristocrat and the painter they decided to make a work with a typically British theme, such as the horses, but give it a bearing of monumentality such as had not been seen before. That's why he's one ofthe first cases in which we see the portrait of an animal without any setting, on a neutral background, since it was normal to paint them in groups or individually but surrounded by their habitat, the English countryside and the farms where they were raised. Thanks to that neutral background, it has that monumental bearing, and the painting takes on some of the values of the sculpture.
The work also has several legends around it. According to one of them, it was inconceivable that such a painting could be painted simply for a horse, which is why it was thought that it was going to be an equestrian portrait of King George III that the Marquis wanted to give him to the monarch, but finally, due to political disagreements, he decided that it would only be the horse. A legend that is published, but unlikely.
And another legend, much more poetic, says that one day he uncoveredStubbshis big canvas in the stables, and the real Whistlejacket passed by. The stallion was first surprised to see the image of him, later he stared at the work to get excited little by little, and then decided to fight that possible rival. In fact, it had to be tied down to prevent it from destroying the work. Something that filled Stubbs completely, since that reaction meant that he had reached the pinnacle of realism in his painting.