George Stubbs

Newmarket Heath, with a Rubbing-Down House

c.1765

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 302 x 419 mm
frame: 425 x 535 x 60 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1979
Reference
T02388

Summary

This is one of a pair of small landscapes, with the picture of the same title now in the Paul Mellon Collection, Upperville, Virginia. Both record views from different angles of one of the rubbing-down houses on Newmarket Heath. They are the only landscape studies without figures known to exist by the artist. They remained in Stubbs's studio for the rest of his life and were frequently referred to for later compositions. The pictures were kept as a pair until sold separately in 1958. The details in the Tate's picture are incorporated as the backdrop for Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a Trainer Jockey and a Stable-Lad, c.1765 (private collection), and in Laura with a Jockey and Stable-Lad, 1771 (private collection). Otho, with John Larkin up, 1768 (Tate Gallery T02375) shows the same rubbing-down house, this time on the right of the picture and observed from the opposite side to that in this study, so that Newmarket town rather than its racecourse appears in the background.

Four rubbing-down houses stood on Newmarket Heath in the eighteenth century; one still stands. Rubbing down involved wiping sweat off horses after exercise or racing, using wisps of straw or rough cloths. The house in the foreground of this picture seems to have been reserved for horses belonging to royalty and to members of the Jockey Club. It is identified in John Bodger's pictorial map of the racecourse and buildings on Newmarket Heath (published 1787) as 'the King's Stables'. The two spectators' stands in the background are 'the King's stand', on the left, and 'the Duke's stand' on the right in the distance. There is a movable betting-post between them.

The picture was probably worked up in the studio from preliminary drawings made on the spot. Stubbs transcribed the subject as faithfully as possible, without aesthetic concessions. No preparatory sketches are known to survive, although many such items were included in Stubbs's studio sale on 27 May 1807, under the heading 'Drawings, Drawing Books, Studies from Nature, Sketches &c'.

Further reading:
Basil Taylor, Stubbs, London 1971, pp.42, 208, reproduced pl.34
Judy Egerton, George Stubbs 1724-1806, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1984, reprinted 1996, pp. 82-5, reproduced p.82 in colour

Terry Riggs
December 1997

Display caption

This shows one of the rubbing-down houses on Newmarket Heath racecourse, where the sweating horses were dried, or 'rubbed-down', after exercise. Only one other pure landscape by Stubbs, a view of the same rubbing-down house from a different angle, survives. Both were frequently referred to by him when painting the backgrounds for his portraits of famous racehorses. His studio sale included many items under the heading 'Drawings, Drawing Books, Studies from Nature, Sketches, &c.' It is not known, however, whether a study such as this was made outdoors or painted from a preliminary drawing.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

T02388 NEWMARKET HEATH, WITH RUBBING-DOWN HOUSE c.1765

Oil on canvas, 11 15/16 × 16 1/2 (30.4 × 41.9)
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1979
Prov: The artist's sale, Peter Coxe, 26–27 May 1807, second day (59, one of ‘Landscapes with Buildings, &c. a pair, Views on the Race Ground at Newmarket’); ...; sale of Thomas Garle, deceased, christie's 24 May 1862 (1, one of ‘Two views of the stables at Newcastle’, corrected by hand at the time in Christie's copy of the sale catalogue to ‘... Newmarket’), bt. Watson £2.10.0;...; anon. sale, Christie's 25 October 1957 (156, one of a pair), bt. Agnew; sold on its own to B. N. Mavroleon, 1958; ‘the Property of a Lady’, sold Sotheby's 18 July 1979 (140, repr.), bt. Baskett & Day for the Tate Gallery.
Exh: Landscape in Britain c.1750–1850, Tate Gallery, 1973–4 (99, repr.; in the first edition of the catalogue, the Mellon study was erroneously repr. instead); Painting form Nature, Arts Council, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and Royal Academy, 1980–1 (15, repr.).
Lit: Basil Taylor, Stubbs, 1971, p.208, repr. pl.34 (erroneously stated to be in the collection of Mr and Mrs Paul Mellon); Egerton, 1978, pp.77–8; The Tate Gallery 1978–80, p. 35, repr.in col.

The pair of small landscapes showing different views of one of the rubbing-down house on Newmarket Heath are the only pure landscape studies by Stubbs to survive. Both were probably originally made for Stubbs's two different portraits of Gimcrack, c.1765 (see below). They remained in Stubbs's studio for the rest of his life and were frequently referred to for later compositions. They were kept as a pair until sold separately by Agnew's in 1958; the other study (12 × 16 in.), sold to a private collector but bought back in 1961, was then sold by Agnew's to Mr Paul Mellon, and remains in his collection (Egerton, 1978, pp.77–8, no.76, repr. pl.29).

Both T02388 and the Mellon study powerfully suggest that the artist had first carefully selected his viewpoint, then intently scrutinised his subject and finally transcribed it as truthfully as possible, making no concessions to picturesque formulae; but the high degree of control and finish in both makes it unlikely that they were actually painted on the spot. They are more likely to have been worked up in the studio form preliminary drawings made on the spot. Stubbs's posthumous sale (cited under Prov.) contained many items suggesting a regular practice of preliminary sketching, in chalk, pencil or pen and ink on paper, directly from nature; grouped under the heading ‘Drawings, Drawing Books, Studies from Nature, Sketches &c’, lots 18–30 in the Second Day's Sale included, for instance, ‘Twenty-five sketches in black lead, Landscapes &c.’ (lot 20) and, even more tantalising, ‘One Book with 200 Landscapes, Views and Sketches’ (lot 22). No such items appear to have survived.

The most prominent building in T02388, in the foreground on the left, is one of four rubbing-down houses which stood on Newmarket Heath in the eighteenth century (one survives, near Running Gap). They were used for ‘rubbing down’, with wisps of straw, or with rough cloths such as the stable-lad holds in Stubbs's painting of ‘Hambletonian’ (mentioned below), horses which inevitably sweated profusely after exercise or racing; this one seems to have been reserved for horses belonging to royalty or to members of the Jockey Club. In John Bodger's pictorial map of the racecourses and buildings on Newmarket Heath, published in 1787 (repr. Frank Siltzer, Newmarket, 1923, facing p.62), it can be identified as ‘the King's Stables’. The two spectators' stands in the background of T02388 are ‘the King's stand’, on the left, ‘the Duke's stand’, still further distant on the right, with a (moveable) betting-post between them. The railings stretching obliquely away border ‘the Duke's course’. Stubbs's viewpoint for this study must have been the south-west (or Suffolk) edge of Newmarket Heath. (Information kindly provided by Canon Peter May, of Newmarket, and Captain Lees, Clerk of the Course at Newmarket.)

Stubbs incorporated most of the details of T02388, including the foreground weeds, but excluding the betting-post and the more distant spectators' stand on the right, in his large painting ‘Gimcrack at Newmarket with a Trainer, Jockey and Stable-lad’, c.1765 (two versions, one in the collection of the Jockey Club, repr. Taylor, op. cit., pl.32; the other in a private collection). He used the same details again, in 1771, for the background of ‘Laura with a Jockey and Stable-lad’ (private collection, repr. Taylor op. cit. pl. 69) and finally, in 1799, for the very large and extraordinarily powerful ‘Hambletonian being rubbed down, with a Trainer and a Stable lad’ (private collection, repr. Taylor, op. cit., pl.131), painted at the age of 75.

‘Baronet with Sam Chifney up’, 1791 (engraved by George Towneley Stubbs in 1794 as Plate XII of the Turf Review project) draws on some details of T.2388; but since it shows horse and jockey actually racing, the rubbing-down house is omitted and instead the spectators' stands, their windows now open, are brought into prominence. At least four versions of that painting are known, one in the Royal Collection (Oliver Millar, The Later Georgian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, 1969, p.124, no.1118, nothing other versions).

The Mellon study was used for ‘Gimcrack with Jockey up’, c.1765 (collection James Adeane, on loan to the Fitzwilliam Museum), for ‘Turf with Jockey up’, also c.1765 (Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, repr. Egerton, 1978, col.pl.12) and for ‘Eclipse with Groom and Jockey’, 1770 (in the collection of the Jockey Club, repr. Constance Anne-Parker, Mr Stubbs the Horse Painter, 1971, p.143).

‘Otho with John Larkin up’, 1768 (Tate Gallery, T02375, q.v.), shows the same rubbing-down house, this time on the right of the picture and observed from the opposite side to that in the Tate study, so that Newmarket town rather than its racecourse appears in the background.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1978-80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981