George Stubbs’ magnificent painting, Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a Trainer, a Stable-Lad, and a Jockey , shown below, will go to auction tomorrow evening, the 5th July, at Christie’s auction house in London.
The Press Release by Christie’s relates that the painting
…was executed in 1765 having been commissioned by the horse’s owner, Frederick St. John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke, who led an extravagant lifestyle pursuing his main interests of racing and gambling. Gimcrack was one of the most popular and admired of all 18th century racehorses. Although he was small, he had great stamina and won an impressive 28 of his 36 races, finishing unplaced only once.
The painting shows Gimcrack twice: in the background he is seen winning a ‘trial’ by some distance, and in the foreground he is depicted with his trainer and jockey, a stable-lad rubbing him down. Gimcrack is portrayed with the full magnificence of the artist’s talent; anatomical perfection with even his veins shown pulsing through his skin. A secondary, autograph version of the painting was owned by Lord Grosvenor (a subsequent owner of Gimcrack) and is now in the collection of the Jockey Club, Newmarket.
Newmarket, of course, was and is still, the home of English horseracing and the Jockey Club, the organisation which regulates the sport , has its headquarters there. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries it was patronised by the Prince of Wales, who had horses in training there. Reading between the lines of Mansfield Park it is not hard to discern that Jane Austen did not appear to approve of this rich man’s pastime, though Tom Bertram was fond of attending these expensive outings:
Tom Bertram must have been thought pleasant, indeed, at any rate; he was the sort of young man to be generally liked, his agreeableness was of the kind to be oftener found agreeable than some endowments of a higher stamp, for he had easy manners, excellent spirits, a large acquaintance, and a great deal to say; and the reversion of Mansfield Park, and a baronetcy, did no harm to all this. Miss Crawford soon felt that he and his situation might do…It might do very well; she believed she should accept him; and she began accordingly to interest herself a little about the horse which he had to run at the B———– races.
These races were to call him away not long after their acquaintance began; and as it appeared that the family did not, from his usual goings on, expect him back again for many weeks, it would bring his passion to an early proof. Much was said on his side to induce her to attend the races, and schemes were made for a large party to them, with all the eagerness of inclination, but it would only do to be talked of.
Mansfield Park, Chapter 5
Newmarket’s association with horse racing was the reason that Tom Bertram went there, and it would have looked much like the Stubbs painting above. Newmarket was almost the site of Tom’s untimely demise. Falling ill at Newmarket and being abandoned by his fair weather friends put his life at risk;
Tom had gone from London with a party of young men to Newmarket, where a neglected fall and a good deal of drinking had brought on a fever; and when the party broke up, being unable to move, had been left by himself at the house of one of these young men to the comforts of sickness and solitude, and the attendance only of servants. Instead of being soon well enough to follow his friends, as he had then hoped, his disorder increased considerably, and it was not long before he thought so ill of himself as to be as ready as his physician to have a letter despatched to Mansfield.
Mansfield Park, Chapter 44.
I doubt Jane Austen approved of Newmarket or the sport it was associated with, for she made certain it was almost the case of Tom’s death.
The Stubbs painting is being sold by the Trustees of the collection of the late Lord Woolavington, a whiskey magnate, who bought it in 1951 for £12,600 – a huge sum at the time.
The Woolavington Collection, which is a magnificent collection of English sporting pictures including other works by Stubbs, that is currently housed at Cottesbrooke Hall, in Northamptonshire. This helps keep the Mansfield Park connection alive, for it is often thought that Cottesbrooke was the model Jane Austen used for Mansfield.
Cottesbrooke is now owned by Lord Woolavington’s descendant, Captain Macdonald-Buchanan, and the painting is being sold apparently because the because the cost of insuring it is prohibitively high and disproportionate to the value of the other works in the collection.
The painting which will go on sale tomorrow at Christie’s in London, is estimated to fetch over £20 million. What a relief it is that Tom Bertram cannot bid for it…..