Thursday, December 22, 2011

EQUINE PORTRAITISTS: Capturing the Obsession of the Elite

by Emery Lee

While many people today are familiar with 18th century portraitists Thomas Gainsborogh (1727 – 1788) and Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723 – 1792) whose portraits and landscapes grace the walls of many museums and private art collections, three of their contemporaries were equally acclaimed for their sporting scenes and equine portraiture.

John Wootton (1682 – 1764) born in Snitterfield, Warwickshire near Stratford-upon-Avon was one of the pioneers in the depiction of sporting subjects and considered the finest artist of his day in this genre. Based in Newmarket, he was most prolific in equine portraiture and other sporting scenes and sought after by the highest strata of society, his patrons including George II, Frederick, Prince of Wales, and the Duke of Marlborough.

(GEORGE II at the Battle of Dettingen by John Wootton)

Many examples of his animal painting can be found in the Tate Gallery, London, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richomnd, the Yale Center for British Art, and in the Elizabethan Great Hall at Longleat.

(Wootton’s work was used for the cover of my romantic historical novel THE HIGHEST STAKES)

James Seymour (1702–1752) was another English painter widely recognized for his equestrian art. Born in London to an amateur artist and art dealer, he was encouraged at a young age to pursue his passions to include racehorses, which would later become not only his primary artistic subject, but ultimately his financial ruin.

(Flying Childers by James Seymour)

Seymour’s equine art was immensely popular among the prominent sporting families of the day, and still ranks him amongst the most prominent artists of the “sporting school,” though he would later be “Eclipsed” (Yes, the pun is intended) by George Stubbs.

(Eclipse by George Stubbs)

George Stubbs (1724 – 1806) was the best known of these artists for his paintings of horses. Born the son of a Liverpool currier and leather merchant, little more is known of Stubbs early life. He worked with his father until age 15 or 16, after which he briefly apprenticed to a Lancashire painter and engraver until the 1740s when he began painting portraits. From about 1745 to 1751 he studied human anatomy at York County Hospital and one of his earliest surviving works is a set of illustrations for a textbook on midwifery which was published in 1751. While throughout his career Stubbs accepted commissions for human portraits, he is best known for his equine subjects, often depicted with their grooms.

(Whistlejacket by George Stubbs)

His most famous work is probably Whistlejacket, commissioned by the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, which is now in the National Gallery in London. This and two other paintings carried out for Rockingham break with convention in having plain backgrounds.

My book trailer is very much an homage to these great artists and their fabulously fleet subjects.

- Emery Lee

(The accompaniment is Bach's Harpsichord concerto in D minor)

Emery Lee loves nothing more than crafting emotionally compelling romantic stories that bring a historical period vividly to life.

Her debut novel THE HIGHEST STAKES, is an epic tale of star-cross lovers set in the high stakes world of 18th century horse racing. In FORTUNE'S SON, Emery spins a web of drama, passion, and deceit, deep in the world of high stakes gaming.

She currently resides in NE Georgia with her husband of twenty-eight years, two sons, a little dog with a big attitude, and her two horses. She is represented by Nicole Resciniti of The Seymour Agency and is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Romance Writers of America, RWA , Georgia Romance Writers, and the group moderator for Goodreads Romantic Historical Fiction Lovers.

Twitter: authoremerylee


  1. Oh how lovely! I have books with a few of these paintings in them. I love to see such depictions and your cover art is s'wonderful.

    I have your books on my wish list.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. The Stubbs exhibition in London a few years ago was superb. The best! And it was the first time they'd brought together all of his anatomical studies of horses. We don't, today, think of it as particularly challenging, but Stubbs work was groundbreaking--he was the first artist to dissect a horse (in the way Michelangelo did the human body) in order to understand it and therefore paint it more accurately. And when one considers that Stubbs often had the same corpse out on the table while he worked and then drew his findings for about three weeks--well, even the stench is inconceivable to us.

    The other thing that's very interesting about equine portraiture is that often horses are shown with all four feet extended off the ground to the front and to the back. (It often looks very funny to us and a bit naive.) It wasn't until they had film of horses running that they saw that this is actually impossible--at least one foot is always on the ground at all times, it just happens so fast, they never caught it before.


  3. So very sublime a post! As an avid equestrian this is my very passion! I am a Stubbs/Wootton/Seymour-devotee, so this has been such a thrill. Thank you for an early Holiday Gift Emery!

  4. @ Sophia and Lady A- I adore these art works as well and was thrilled when Sourcebooks chose the Wootton. I also enjoyed using them for my book trailer and thought they worked really well with the music too!
    @ M.M. Stubbs was truly a master in this arena.
    I am so glad you all enjoyed the post.
    - Emery

  5. Thank you Emery Lee, for this visual bath of beauty. The horses are always so much more handsome and noble looking that the people. Jonathan Swift was right.
    By the way, do you know of a Scottish horse and dog painter named Fernley circa 1830?

  6. Fascinating and very enjoyable post. I have seen Stubbs' Whistlejacket "in the flesh" as it were. It is sublime and gives one goosebumps!
    Thanks for sharing, Emery!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.