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September 28 2019
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A Zebra, by George Stubbs, 1763, oil on canvas.

Do you think you know George Stubbs? You have probably seen his horses parading like proud supermodels around the drawing rooms of England’s grandest homes. This 18th-century painter, with a passion for anatomy and an eye for the racecourse, has claimed a place in our canon as the purveyor of polished equine portraits to the British aristocracy.

This, to an extent, is the Stubbs whom you are going to have the pleasure of meeting in the MK Gallery’s forthcoming exhibition. Several of the artist’s most-loved images will be travelling to Milton Keynes, the highlight being his crowd-pulling Whistlejacket, on rare loan from the National Gallery. This life-size portrait of an air-pawing stallion, its flaxen mane and tail aflow as it rises to the levade, prances like some classical statue come to life. Stubbs captures the beauty of this hot-blooded Arabian with such attentive skill that, according to legend, when Whistlejacket was led past the painting by a stable lad, the horse reared up to attack what it thought was a rival stallion, lifting its handler clean off his feet.

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