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Creator:
John Wootton, 1682–1764, British
Title:

The Duke of Rutland's Bonny Black

Date:
ca. 1715
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
30 x 48 1/2 inches (76.2 x 123.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
B1981.25.695
Classification:
Paintings
Collection:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
animal art | black | breeches | brick | building | coat | duke | hats | hills | horses (animals) | jockeys | leading | race | races | racing | riding | riding boots | shoes | sky | stockings
Associated Places:
England | Newmarket | Suffolk | United Kingdom
Access:
On view in the galleries
Link:
https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:5041
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Wootton was one of the first artists to paint scenes from the Newmarket races, and in this portrait of Bonny Black, a prize-winning mare, he captures the lively spirit of the race in its early eighteenth-century form: in the distance a horse runs the course on the heath; to the right a group of gentlemen cluster around a mounted jockey (likely himself a gentleman racer); and before the viewer Bonny Black's majestic figure looms large as her jockey proudly leads her to the rubbing-down house. Racing had gained popularity as an exciting sport, pastime, even a business, over the course of the seventeenth century. In large part because of its ?at, open landscape, Newmarket Heath had risen to prominence as one of the best hunting and racing grounds in the country. Charles II's love of the thrill of horse racing turned what was formerly a sleepy town into a mecca for aficionados, and by Wootton's time it was the proving ground for any thoroughbred in search of fame. Bonny Black's reputation was made on the Heath, and in an inscription in a second version of this painting (Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire) Wootton carefully recorded her successes there: at four years old and a half She won ye Prince's gold cup att Newmarket against Mares of Six years old and a half. After that she won two Gold Cups against Mares of her own Age. No doubt these wins prompted her owner, the Duke of Rutland, to have her portrait painted. The artist first painted Bonny Black, most likely in life-size, in 1711; that year the accounts of Belvoir Castle, the Duke of Rutland's seat, indicate that he was paid £40 for a portrait of the mare. The present painting postdates this larger portrait and corresponds in date with the version at Wimpole Hall, which was painted in 1715 for the artist's great patron Edward, Lord Harley. It is an example of the ostensibly "realistic" race scenes, gaining in popularity, that were painted as documentary records of the victorious horses-prized and beloved-at the sites of their successes. Wootton's composition shows his subject to advantage; he frames his image tightly around the deep black thoroughbred, unsaddled, unbridled, and nearly entirely in profile. The majesty of the animal comes across in its graceful step, its velvety smooth sheen, and its grand yet sleek figure. Wootton gives to Bonny Black an almost human presence: her amusingly animated expression engages the viewer, while the boisterous jockey, unaware of any others save his mare, leads her away with the aid of only a light stable rubber. The artist's attention to the mare's body, coat, and movements highlights the impeccable pedigree that lay at the root of her racing prowess. The rise in the popularity of horse racing was concomitant with a growing preoccupation with the art (and science) of breeding. Fine thoroughbreds such as Bonny Black were expensive investments and prize possessions, and their portraits commemorated not only their own successful careers but also the wealth and racing acumen of their owners.

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 112, no. 41, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of South Australia, 1998-09-16 - 1998-11-15) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Queensland Art Gallery, 1998-07-15 - 1998-09-06) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1998-05-01 - 1998-07-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Noble Exercise - The Sporting Ideal in Eighteenth-Century British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 1982-07-14 - 1982-09-19) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Robert Colls, This sporting life : sport and liberty in England, 1760-1960, Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K., 2020, pp. 56, 371, GV706.35 .C65 2020 (LC) YCBA [ORBIS]

Malcolm Cormack, A Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 258-259, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Stephen Deuchar, Sporting art in eighteenth-century England, a social and political history , Yale University Press, New Haven, 1988, fig. 52 and deta, N8250 D48 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Judy Egerton, British Sporting and Animal Paintings 1655-1867: A Catalogue, The Paul Mellon Collection , Tate Publishing, London, 1978, pp. 11-12, no. 12, ND1383 G7 B75 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 112, no. 41, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA) [YCBA]


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