In 1997 the National Gallery, with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund, bought Whistlejacket, Stubbs’s iconic life-sized depiction of the famous racehorse. In a time before Mr Livingstone began to readdress the flow of traffic around Trafalgar Square, the projection of the rearing horse against the gallery building had a traffic-stopping effect. Less than a decade later this image has become one of the most easily recognised and admired icons of the collection, and today even boasts the accolade of being the gallery’s top-selling postcard.
Based on this popularity it is perhaps not surprising to discover that this new exhibition Stubbs and the Horse was conceived around Whistlejacket. Previous exhibitions of his work have been more general retrospectives of his paintings across all subjects: this is the first to focus on the theme that looms largest in his oeuvre. Bringing together 34 of his finest horse paintings as well as examples of the anatomical drawings that first established his reputation in artistic and equestrian circles it demonstrates not only his talents as an artist but also his uniquely empirical approach to his work.