Gulliver Addressing the Houyhnhnms

  • About the work
    Location
    Country: Ireland
    City: Dublin
    Place: British Embassy

    Gulliver's voyage to the land of the Houyhnhnms is the fourth and last adventure in Jonathan Swift's 'Gulliver's Travels', the original version of which was first published in 1726. The tale relates how Gulliver is abandoned by his shipmates on an island inhabited and run by a civilised and superior race of horses, known in their language as ‘Houyhnhnms’ (pronounced Hwin-ums), a word which in their language means ‘the perfection of nature’.

    This painting represents Gulliver's arrival in the land of the Houyhnhnms, when ‘…he meets a dapple grey horse, attended by a brown bay, and perceives that they are no “brute beasts”’. In this work, Gulliver’s ship is seen on the horizon, sailing off into the distance, while both horses register surprise at his appearance, so different to the ‘Yahoos’ (humans) in their country who are uncouth, naked creatures, incapable of any positive development.

    This is one of a series of paintings of Gulliver and the Houyhnhnms, exhibited at the Society of Artists between 1768 and1772. It was formerly in the collection of art patron and landscape painter Sir George Beaumont (1753-1827). A work with a similar composition is now in the Paul Mellon Collection, Yale Center for British Art, Connecticut.

  • About the artist
    Sawrey Gilpin, animal painter, was born at Scaleby near Carlisle, the seventh child of landscape painter, Captain John Bernard Gilpin. He initially studied under his father, before being apprenticed to the marine painter Samuel Scott in London from 1749 to 1756. He remained with Scott as an assistant until 1758, devoting himself to horse painting. He later attracted the patronage of the Duke of Cumberland, who employed him to paint portraits of his favourite racing horses and other subjects at Newmarket. From 1762 to 1783 he exhibited at the Society of Artists in Great Britain, of which he became President in 1774. He became an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1794 and a full Royal Academician two years later.
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    Materials & Techniques
    canvas, oil, oil painting
  • Details
    Title
    Gulliver Addressing the Houyhnhnms
    Date
    1771
    Medium
    Oil on canvas
    Dimensions
    height: 90.00 cm, width: 120.00 cm
    Acquisition
    Purchased from Sotheby's, 28 January 1953
    Inscription
    bl: ... : Gilpin 1771
    Provenance
    Collection of art patron and landscape painter Sir George Howland Beaumont (1753-1827); sold through Sotheby's, London, ‘Old Master Paintings and Drawings’ sale, on 28 January 1953 (Lot 35); from which sale purchased by Agnew’s Gallery, London, on behalf of the Ministry of Works
    GAC number
    2052