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The passion of the English for horses is well-known. However, not everybody knows that one of the greatest masterpieces at the National Gallery is the portrait of a horse. While Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough immortalised nobles and kings on canvas, George Stubbs reached the height of fame by specialising in “equestrian painting”. Voyages in Italy and Morocco and in-depth studies of the anatomy of horses were a prelude to his success with the aristocracy of the 1700s. In the paintings of Stubbs - as in his celebrated series The Anatomy of Horses - scientific rigour meets creative originality. Superb steeds appear alone or in groups, accompanied by dogs or a squire. None however, can compete with Whistlejacket, commissioned by the second Marquis of Rockingham - not just some image of a horse, but a true life-size portrait, capable of capturing the character of one of the first pureblood Arab chargers ever brought to Great Britain. Whistlejacket, which got its name from a drink comprised of gin and molasses, had just won a prestigious race in New York, earning the Marquis the handsome sum of 2000 guineas. Stubbs depicts the animal rearing up on its hind legs, ready to launch into a gallop. From its powerful muscles to its dilated nostrils, from its bulging veins to its sparkling eyes, every detail transmits majestic vitality. It is said that upon seeing the painting, the stallion thought to be in front of a dangerous rival and tried to attack it. Whether true or not, the anecdote goes a long way in describing the stunning realism of the work, even more pronounced, thanks to the monochromatic background.
More than 50 artists, half a millennium of art and the immense variety of the planet’s cultures - a fascinating journey awaits at the Camden Art Centre, exploring the intimate tie between humans and plants.