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Property of the Earl and Countess of Macclesfield
George Stubbs A.R.A
Ascham, Jenison Shafto’s Brown Racehorse held by a Groom, the Rubbing Down House, Newmarket, to the right
oil on canvas
71.75 x 103.5 cm

This elegant and refined painting is an exemplary portrait of a racing horse by George Stubbs. As such this painting displays the exquisite technique and attention to precise detail of form and anatomy of the horse that is only found in the work of George Stubbs who remains the world’s leading painter of horses.

The soft lighting suggests early dawn and perhaps the final preparation of this immensely powerful and perfectly honed horse Ascham for an important race that day. The horse is held and portrayed in a side-on position for optimum appreciation – offering a private and privileged view of the musculature and virility of this beautiful specimen. This painting is an advertisement of this horse at the peak of fitness.

The mannerisms of the groom captured with such subtlety and sensitivity by Stubbs emphasize the horse’s excitement as by the need for the horse to have his muzzle stroked – an act of soothing reassurance from the groom in order to keep the horse calm and steady whilst at the same time highlighting his eagerness and vitality and therefore ability to race. Whilst managing his steed, the groom looks out at us the viewer and presumably also at Shafto the owner of the horse and owner of the painting, as if seeking approval for the appearance and condition of his charge.

Ascham, the Bay Horse

Jenison Shafto purchased Ascham in 1765 on the back of a very successful Newmarket racing career owned and bred by Sir James Lowther. Ascham (or Askam), was a bay horse foaled in 1759, and got by Regulus out of Lowther’s black mare by Mr. Panton’s Crab. Judy Egerton dates this painting to c. 1765 and suggests it was likely commissioned by Jenison Shafto (for whom Stubbs seems to have painted at least seven works during the 1760s). If so, it was presumably painted between 1765 and 1768 during Shafto’s ownership of Ascham.

By 1765 Shafto had also managed to secure the lease of training grounds on Newmarket Heath, where this painting of Ascham is appropriately set. The tower and spire of St. Mary’s Church, Newmarket is clearly defined in the background, and the edge of the King’s Stables rubbing down house on the right. Called Mr. Shafto’s Trial Course, on Chapman’s Map of Newmarket, c. 1765 the grounds were not far from the end of the Beacon Course, and the map clearly indicates the presence of the rubbing house (‘Stable’). The setting is used again from the other end of the rubbing house, in another Shafto commission by Stubbs of Hyaena at Newmarket with one of Jenison Shafto’s stable-lads, c. 1765 (descending from Shafto via the Macclesfield collection until sold to Paul Mellon, now Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, USA).

George Stubbs, Otho, with John Larkin up, 1768, oil on canvas © Tate Britain, London
detail of Ascham and the groom
St. Mary’s church, Newmarket
George Stubbs, Newmarket Heath, with the King’s stables rubbing house at the finish of the Beacon Course, ca. 1765, oil on canvas © Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection N2001.2.60
The Macclesfield Collection

The Macclesfield collection of paintings by George Stubbs remains one of the few collections of his works which remain in the private collection into which they entered during Stubbs’ own lifetime. Interestingly, the majority appear to have arrived in the form of a repayment of debt or some such arrangement between Mr. Jenison Shafto. MP (1722-1771) one of the most famous race horse owners of his age, a founding member of the Jockey Club and George Lane Parker (d. 1791) also a founding member of the Jockey Club and younger brother of Thomas Parker, 3rd Earl of Macclesfield (d. 1795).

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Shirburn Castle and Gardens, Oxfordshire
Provenance

Probably painted for Jenison Shafto (d. 1772);

Acquired by George Lane Parker (d. 1791), passing from him to his elder brother Thomas Parker, 3rd Earl of Macclesfield (d. 1795);

By descent to the current owners

Literature

Sir W. Gilbey, Life of George Stubbs R.A., 1898, appendix B., p. 170, no. 3.

J. Egerton, George Stubbs Painter, Catalogue Raisonné, 2007, p. 210, no. 61.