Bay Malton, bred by Mrs Ayrton by Sampson out of The Cade Mare and foaled in 1760, was one of the most famous of all 18th century Yorkshire-bred racehorses. He was named after his birthplace, Malton, a town (and pocket borough) which was virtually owned by the Rockingham family, and from which they took their junior title; and after he had first proved his merits by winning a Sweepstake at Malton for four-year-olds in May 1764, he was purchased by Lord Rockingham. Bay Malton thereafter remained in Rockingham's ownership until the end of his life. For nearly five years, he raced with unbroken success both at Newmarket and at York; in each of his races in these years, he was ridden (as he is in Stubbs's portrait) by Rockingham's favourite jockey, John Singleton.
At Newmarket in October 1765, matched against Gimcrack, the most famous racehorse of his day (and, like Bay Malton, immortalised by Stubbs), Bay Malton beat the favourite 'very easy'. Rockingham's own bets on the outcome reputedly earned him 9000 guineas. Bay Malton's two most famous victories were at York in August 1766, when he won the Great Subscription Purse for four miles in record time (7 minutes 43½ seconds), and at the Newmarket Spring Meeting in April 1767, when he won a Sweepstake against Turf, Ascham (each painted by Stubbs) and King Herod.
Both these races were more than triumphs for Bay Malton and his owner; they were also triumphs for the North against the South. After the York August Meeting in 1766, in which other Yorkshire-bred horses did conspicuously well, it was publicly reported that 'The North Country Gentlemen beat those of the South, which showed the superiority of the breed of horses in the North', while the Sweepstakes at Newmarket in Spring 1767 was reported as having 'brought together a greater number of Noblemen, Gentlemen, Sportsmen, and People of all Ranks from every part of the kingdom than were ever seen before at Newmarket; and those from Yorkshire backed Bay Malton freely, and won thousands'. All this (as well as his huge winnings) was music to the ears of Lord ockingham, who never forgot that he was a Yorkshireman. Probably he commissioned Stubbs's portrait of Bay Malton around 1765-7. Bay Malton began to fail in the spring of 1769; after defeats that season, Rockingham retired him to stud and, when he was too old to serve as a stallion, ordered that he should be 'turned out for life', thus sparing him the fate of being used as a work-horse, and leaving him free and at grass in Wentworth Park until the once-famous horse died there, in 1786, aged 26.
John Singleton, also a Yorkshireman (born in 1715 at Melbourne, near Pocklington, not far from Wentworth), is sometimes described as 'the first professional jockey', a phrase reflecting his employment by Lord Rockingham in all major races from the early 1760s until 1780. Though this painting is identifiable in the 1782 inventory, it is not easily identifiable in earlier documents; but it is probably datable to around 1766, when Singleton would have been about 41 years old. Singleton wears Rockingham's colours - green silk jacket (the green echoed in the horse's browband) and black cap; lean, fit and above all experienced, he stands in the stirrups in a perfectly controlled pose which Stubbs never quite equalled again with his occasional portraits of racehorses and jockies cantering or galloping. The racecourse itself is suggested only by the posts and rails; whether this race was run at Newmarket or York is impossible to determine. Stubbs was not interested in such details - unlike Francis Sartorius, who twice depicted Bay Malton in scenes crowded with spectators and with details (Bay Malton and Gimcrack at Newmarket, 1765 and Bay Malton beating King Herod, Turf and Ascham, 1767, both engraved).
Rockingham also commissioned Stubbs to paint Singleton on his dark bay horse Scrub, standing by a lake in a sylvan landscape which perhaps represents the park at Wentworth (J. Egerton, op.cit., pl.35). Singleton retired from Rockingham's employment in 1780, sufficiently well-off to enjoy nearly twenty years of leisure; in a portrait by an unknown artist (in the collection of a London club) he is depicted at the age of eighty-three, riding his horse Merry Bachelor and coursing with two greyhounds near Sledmere. Singleton lived to an uncommonly great age, dying (according to J. Fairfax-Blakeborough, Northern Turf History, III, p.50) in 1799. The John Singleton who won the first St. Leger in 1776 for Lord Rockingham, on Alabaculia, was his nephew, sometimes known as John Singleton the Younger.
Bay Malton with John Singleton up
Oil on canvas
Signed 'Geo: Stubbs/pinxit.' (lower right)
George Stubbs, A.R.A
London, Messrs. Ellis and Smith, Paintings by George Stubbs from Wentworth Woodhouse, in aid of the South London Hospital for Women and Children, 1946, no. 6.
Newmarket, The National Horseracing Museum, on loan.
40 x 50 in. (101.6 x 127 cm.)
W. Shaw Sparrow, George Stubbs and Ben Marshall, London, 1929, illustrated.
H. F. Constantine, 'Lord Rockingham and Stubbs; some New Documents', Burlington Magazine, no. 604, vol.XCV, July 1953, p.237.
Constance-Anne Parker, Mr Stubbs the Horse Painter, London, 1971, p. 146.
J. Egerton, George Stubbs, Catalogue of the Exhibition at the Tate Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art, 1984, under nos. 34, 35 and 72.
Commissioned from the artist by Charles, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham (d.1782) and by descent to his nephew
William, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam (d. 1833) and by descent.