A Century of Giving
Gimcrack with John Pratt up on Newmarket Heath
oil on canvas, 100 x 124 cm
The Fitzwilliam Museum: PD.7-1982
This is Gimcrack, one of the most famous racehorses of the 18th century, painted by George Stubbs on Newmarket Heath - still an important centre for horseracing in Britain. In the background, is the rubbing down house where the animals would be dried with straw after their exertions.
Whereas previous horse painters had concentrated on recording distinctive markings, Stubbs wanted his portraits to capture the unique character of each animal. Here he captures a quiet moment between Gimcrack and his jockey - removed from the stir of the race-course. John Pratt sits, relaxed but alert, in the saddle, wearing the colours of Gimcrack's wealthy owner, William Wildman, who commissioned the painting in 1765.
Earlier in his career, Stubbs had undertaken the dissection of an entire horse and drawn, engraved and published the results. You can see this scientific understanding in the way he suggests the underlying skeleton, musculature and ligaments of this powerful thoroughbred animal - defined by the dazzling sheen of his coat.
The Friends of the Fitzwilliam were heavily involved in the acquisition of this celebrated painting in 1982. They launched a highly public appeal for funds during which the Director, Michael Jaffé, was seen with a collecting box at the Newmarket racecourse!
The subscriptions, which flowed in from many sources, were led by Her Majesty the Queen and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. This use of the Friends' fund as 'seed corn' to initiate a national appeal had already successfully secured Van Dyck's Madonna & Child (1976) and would later secure Renoir's Place Clichy (1986).