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Benjamin Killingbeck fl.1763  - 1783
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Benjamin Killingbeck fl.1763 - 1783

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A chestnut racehorse held by a groom by the winning-post at Nantwich racecourse in Cheshire

 

Oil painting on canvas 25 x 30 inches (76 x 63 cm..), signed and dated 1776, and contained in a good carved and gilt period frame.

Signed and dated 1776

 

Killingbeck was a Yorkshireman, and was probably born at Pontefract where he was married in 1769. He was called by then in the local newspaper "an eminent painter and limner", and certainly he was exhibiting at the major London venues of the Society of Artists, the Free Society of Artists and the Royal Academy from that year. Likewise, he early enjoyed the patronage of such distinguished patrons as the Marquis of Rockingham, the Earl of Eglinton, the Tattersalls and the Wentworth family. This was distinguished company, for these people were likewise major patrons of the developing genius of George Stubbs.

Killingbeck's best known works are of a sporting nature, though he also produced landscapes and portraits. His paintings often exhibited a wholly engaging trace of eccentricity, and betray an idiosyncratic ability in eye catching composition. (One wonders what his missing picture, exhibited 1773, entitled "A view of a gentleman's house, and a remarkable instance of a Turkey Cock seizing a hawk" could possibly look like !). His technique is extremely sound, and his pictures have withstood the vagaries of time exceptionally well; the freshness of palette, crispness of execution and eye for fine detail are themselves notable.

The composition of the present painting owes not a little to Killingbeck's apparent mentor, George Stubbs, and shows the latter's influence in the positioning of the main subject-matter in a distant landscape which is suggested tonally rather than depicted with a topographer's precision. There are a number of surviving portraits of racehorses by the artist, though perhaps the closest analogy is another painting of a horse on Nantwich racecourse (now long vanished) which is in the local museum:

 

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Benjamin Killingbeck: Mr Walsh's Bay racehorse “Perdita” on Nantwich racecourse. Oil painting on canvas 25 x 30 inches. Signed and dated 1781.(Nantwich Museum). The painting records the filly's victory in the Noblemen and Gentlemen's purse of £50 on 10 July 1781, her only win. The same winning post and judges' box may be seen in both paintings. This is the only painting by the artist in a public collection in the UK. It is quite possible that the present painting and that in the Nantwich Museum were originally commissioned by the same owner: the jockey's silks in the latter are the same colours as the livery worn by the groom in our painting.