Peter Tillemans’ panoramic painting of Newmarket Heath depicts the final moments of a race at the famous racecourse founded by James I. Riders stream over the brow of the hill towards the finishing posts, while groups of people, standing and on horseback, wait to congratulate the winner. The stable block is seen in the centre of the picture. To the right, people gather at a high window in the stand to watch the race. The town of Newmarket is seen in the distance. A man on a rearing horse in the centre, who does not appear in other versions of this scene by Tillemans, raises his hat to hail the winner. On the far left, one rider’s hat flies off as his horse rears, while nearby two men struggle to avoid being trampled by a racing horse.
This is one of at least 14 works painted by Tillemans, which show a view of one of the racecourses at Newmarket. A print made after this painting was dedicated to the Prince of Wales (later crowned King George II) and it has been suggested that the Prince owned this work and also that the two well-dressed figures seen on horseback to the right represent the Prince of Wales and his wife, Caroline.
Peter Tillemans was born in Antwerp; the son of a diamond cutter. He was brought to England by a picture dealer in 1708, where he soon made a name for himself and became a founding member of Godfrey Kneller’s Academy. In 1724 he collaborated with Joseph Goupy on scenery for Haymarket Opera House. He also produced some 500 topographical drawings for historian John Bridges. In the early 1720s he painted horse or racing scenes and views of the Thames. He was a member of the Rose and Crown Club and the Society of the Virtuosi of St Luke. His versatility is demonstrated by the range of work he painted for Dr Cox Macro, including battle scenes, landscapes, hunting scenes and portraits. He died, aged about 50, while staying with Macro in Suffolk.
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