Saturday, 14 May 2016



In this, the eighth in my series looking at horses in art, I am considering this well-known portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92). It measures 97” x 82.5” (8’1” x 6’10.5”) or 248 x 210 cm and is an oil on canvas. It was painted circa 1763-5 and currently hangs in the Ringling Museum of Art in Florida, USA.

The Marquess of Granby, by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Sir Joshua Reynolds was much in demand as a portraitist, not least because of his remarkable ability to make every one he painted as individual as his subjects. He had an uncanny knack of showing his clients in the best possible light, whether they be a society lady, a devoted mother, a politician or, as in this case, a military leader.

The Marquess of Granby, as a general of some considerable stature, is shown in a suitably heroic setting. The Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in Europe is depicted on the battlefield of Vellinghansen, where a major victory was won, in July 1761, against the French. Behind him, smoke rises from the scene of the battle, adding to the air of military prowess alluded to by the Marquess’ breastplate and general’s uniform. The sky is moody and menacing, enhancing the drama of the work, and even the horse, such an important part of the composition, appears to be surveying the field of success.

The ‘engine’ of the horse is located in his hindquarters, thus this pose accentuates, not only the power of the animal, but also that of the man who controls him. John Manners is not a small man, and his horse is therefore no skinny Thoroughbred racehorse, but a charger of bone and substance, with the strength to carry his master all day. However, that is not to suggest he lacks quality – far from it. The strapping bay is of a type horse aficionados will recognize as a gentleman’s hunter – blood crossed with bone, and often produced in show rings all over the country, from the marriage of Thoroughbred with Irish Draught.

The strength and placidity of the Irish Draught perfectly tempers the quickness and fire of the Thoroughbred, and so this horse again adds to his master’s stature by his own eagerness and readiness to rejoin the battle. Perhaps, too, the groom holding the horse looks nervous, as if he fears he might not be able to keep his charge from doing so.

It is this presence, this very edginess on the part of the horse, which adds to the Marquess’ own power. He leans against the bay’s quarters in an almost nonchalant pose, his head turned away in contemplation. Not only can he control this mettlesome steed in the throes of action, a worthy hero of His Majesty’s forces, he is also a man with loftier concerns, a tactician and leader of men given to mature and considered reflection. The vagaries of his horse’s temperament and the demands made upon his own skill were accepted long ago. His thoughts are for the ‘affairs of men’ and keeping the Gallic threat from English soil.

© Heather King


  1. Loved it. I don't think we see many horses' rears in paintings. Usually the portrait is more of the horse's head than his read. The composition of this portrait gives it an energetic feel.

    1. Thank you. I'm pleased you enjoyed it. No, I believe the composition is unusual, especially in a portrait. The pose really adds to the power of the painting.