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Two men are shown tending to the horse Eclipse, in an accomplished picture by the most famous British horse and animal artist of the 18th century, George Stubbs, and engraved by T. Burke. The legend of the print indicates that the print is dedicated to the owner of the original painting, Denes O'Kelly, Esquire.
Noted Stubbs expert Christopher Lennox-Boyd describes the scene as showing Eclipse "outside one of the four rubbing-down houses at Newmarket." Lennox-Boyd describes further the scene and theories of who the jockey is:
This setting is perhaps intended to convey an episode during preparation for Eclipse's closest race, against Mr Wentworth's Bucephalus, which was the last race in which Eclipse was ridden for Wildman before O'Kelly bought him outright. According to Stubbs's Review of the Turf proposals, the jockey portrayed is 'Samuel Merrit, who generally rode him.' Whyte, however, maintains that 'Fitzpatrick and Oakley rode him in almost all his races.'
The print was published in four states, this example being the fourth state, as evident from pale auras surrounding the figures resulting from hand reworking. The publication line for the fourth state was erased and replaced, though it appears only erased in this example.The caption in lower margin reads: "Eclipse was got by Mask a Son of Squirt which was got by Bartlets Childers his Dam by Regulus his Grandam by a full Brother to Wildman's Squirrel his Great Grandam by Lord Darcey's Montague his Great Great Grandam by Hautboy his Great Great Great Grandam by Brimmer Son of the Oglethorp Arabian in 1769 he Won 50 at Ascot Heath the Kings 100 G & 50 Winchester the 100 G, the Bowl & 30 G at Salisbury the Kings 100 G, at Canterbury Lewes & Litchfield in 1770 they paid forfeit to him 600 G, at Newmarket the Kings 100 G, at Newmarket the Kings 100 G, at Guildrod the Kings 100 G, at Nottingham the Kings G, & 329, 10 at York the Kings 100 g, at Lincoln 150 G, & Upwards & the Kings 100 G, at Newmarket & never was beat."
George Stubbs (1724-1806) was one of the greatest sporting artists of Georgian England. He combined science and art by painting animals with anatomical precision. After a visit to Rome and a period of residence in Liverpool, he returned to England in 1760. He also drew horses based on dissections, and in 1766 published a monumental series of engravings, Anatomy of the Horse, which cemented his reputation as a master of the subject. His vast body of work includes paintings of the prize horses of England of the late 18th century, often with their proud owners or trainers. He also painted hunting scenes, and wild animals such as lions and tigers, including some with lions stalking horses. Stubbs served as president of the Society of Artists in 1773 and though he had his quarrels with the Royal Academy, he exhibited there periodically and was elected as an Associate in 1780. Many of his paintings are in the world’s major museums, with a large number represented in the Yale Center for British Art (Paul Mellon Collection). Some of the greatest engravers and printers of the day were engaged to render Stubbs' animal pictures as prints, including William Woollett (1735-1785), and Stubbs’ son, the printmaker George Townly Stubbs (1756-1815) (sometimes spelled “Townley”).
Robert Laurie (1755-1836) was a London map, chart and printseller. From 1794 to 1812 he went into business with James Whittle (1757-1818) trading variously as Laurie and Whittle or Whittle and Laurie. Laurie began his career as a fine mezzotint engraver and exhibited at the Society of Artists from 1770-76. With Whittle, they took over Robert Sayer's business and Laurie stopped engraving. The firm published many atlases and maps and products used for jigsaws. Robert's son, Richard Holmes Laurie, succeeded him upon his retirement in 1812, and after Whittle's death in 1818 carried on the business alone until at least 1840. The firm still exists as Imray, Laurie, Norie and Wilson Ltd. and they have long specialized in marine charts.
Lennox-Boyd, Christopher, et al. George Stubbs: The Complete Engraved Works. London: Stipple Publishing Limited, 1989. Item 32, p. 130.
Maxted, Ian. "The London book trades 1775-1800: a preliminary checklist of members." Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History. U.K.: Devon Library and Information Services. 24 January 2005. http://www.devon.gov.uk/library/locstudy/bookhist/lonn.html (Orme) (6 April 2005).
Williamson, George C., ed. Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers. London: G. Bell and Sons: 1930. Vol. 5, pp. 139-140 (Stubbs).