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