John Wootton, the father of all sporting painters, was one of the first English artists to paint horse portraits. Horse racing had become a very popular sport in the seventeenth century and greatly enjoyed by the aristocracy. John Wootton became a highly regarded and well-rewarded artist; “The best horse painter in England”, according to the Earl of Egremont.
Towards the end of the seventeenth and early part of the eighteenth century members of the aristocratic racing community imported a number of Arabian horses to introduce quality and speed into the larger native breeds of England. Arabian horses were bred specifically by the Bedouin sheiks for desert warfare, in which speed and stamina over long distances were essential. This policy proved highly successful and judging by paintings of the time some splendid animals were bred.
Three of the imported Arabian stallions proved outstanding. It was from them that the racehorses of today are descended. Arguably, the finest and most influential of the three was The Godolphin Arabian. From his grandson, ‘Janus’ or ‘Young Janus’, came the line of the American Quarter Horse.
The Godolphin Arabian was a brown bay of the Jilfan el Balud strain from Southern Arabia. The stallion had been led all the way from the Yemen by its groom and presented to the King of France in 1730. The King had no interest in horses and thus an Englishman living in Paris, Mr. Edward Coke, was able to purchase the Godolphin Arabian and imported him to Britain. At Coke’s death in 1733 the horse went by will to Mr. Roger Williams, a bloodstock agent. He, in turn, sold the stallion to Lord Godolphin, who had already inherited Edward Coke’s mares.
John Wootton’s distinguished portrayal of this fine horse clearly displays the refinements and breed characteristics of the superb Arabian. The Vicomte de Manty, who saw the stallion in the French Royal Stables, described him thus:
He was of beautiful conformation, exquisitely proportioned with large hocks, well let down, with legs of iron, with unequalled lightness of forehand - a horse of incomparable beauty whose only flaw was being headstrong. An essentially strong stallion type, his quarters broad in spite of being half-starved, tail carried in true Arabian style.
Wootton’s portrait of The Godolphin Arabian has never been offered for sale on the open market and has come in a direct line from the 2nd Earl of Godolphin to the present owners. Its sale presents a unique opportunity to purchase the most important sporting painting in the history of the racehorse.
Francis, 2nd Earl of Godolphin, by descent to his son-in-law
Thomas, 4th Duke of Leedes, by descent to
The 11th Duke of Leeds to c. 1930
The Crabbet Park Collection, formed by Lady Wentworth, left to her estate manager
Cecil Covey; thence to a family friend of Lady Wentworth's
The present owner (great grand-son of the 9th Duke of Leeds)
Lady Wentworth, Thoroughbred Racing Stock and its Ancestors. The Authentic Origin of Pure Blood, George Allen & Unwin, London 1938, pages 14, 217-226, 388, reproduced plate 130
Lady Wentworth, The Authentic Arabian and his Descendants. Three Voices concerning the Horses of Arabia, George Allen & Unwin, London 1945, pages 59-63, reproduced colour plate 3
Manuscript letters in the possession of the present owner.