June 06, 2022
Bespoke jewellery - transforming Whistlejacket into a pendant
Earlier this year, a client commissioned a custom piece of jewellery from Wild Horse Club, of George Stubb’s iconic Whistlejacket portrait.
This was an amazing choice for a custom pendant, and I was delighted to be involved in the process.
Here’s how we worked together to transform this iconic image into a wearable piece of stunning jewellery.
A history of George Stubbs and Whistlejacket
Born in the 18th century, English-born George Stubbs is known for his magnificent and anatomically accurate paintings of animals, predominantly horses.
Originally training as a currier, Stubbs decided he wanted to become a painter as a teenager. While he initially trained under the painter Hamlet Winstanley, he decided to go it alone after an argument and became a self-taught artist.
Many artists studied anatomy to help them produce more realistic paintings, and Stubbs was no exception. While he started studying human anatomy, he moved to horse anatomy, even publishing a book with detailed anatomical equine drawings.
By the 1750s, Stubb’s skills were in high demand, and several members of the aristocracy commissioned him to create realistic animal paintings. Some of his clients even went on to found the Jockey Club.
Whistlejacket, his most famous painting, came to life in about 1762. The Marquess of Rockingham approached Stubbs to paint his thoroughbred racehorse. Stubbs depicted Whistlejacket on his rear legs, showcasing the majesty of the horse with oils on canvas.
One of the amazing things about the Whistlejacket portrait is that it is very nearly life-size, standing 292cm tall and 246cm wide. Another interesting thing about the picture is that the background is completely plain, meaning your eyes focus entirely on the horse and the exquisite details captured by Stubbs.
While I’m not sure if this is entirely true, the story goes that Whistlejacket was accidentally led past the painting and tried to attack it, thinking that the portrait was a real-life rival stallion!
The painting was displayed at Wentworth House (now known as Wentworth Woodhouse) and was then loaned to Kenwood House, the Tate Gallery and the National Gallery. In 1997, the National Gallery in London bought the painting for £11 million, where it is displayed to this day.
Find out more about George Stubbs and Whistlejacket on the National Gallery Website
Bringing Whistlejacket to life
Whistlejacket is one of my favourite paintings, just as it has so many incredible details – you can see the shape of the muscles and even the individual strands of are in the tail.
When I was approached to create a pendant replicating this incredible portrait, I knew it would be a challenge but also a rewarding piece of work. It was important to do the painting justice.
The client had a definitive idea of what they wanted – a pendant of Whistlejacket in his iconic stance, enclosed by a frame identical to that used to surround the painting.
I know the painting very well, but I wanted to ensure the pendant captured as many details as possible. So I went to the National Gallery to check the details and make sketches.
The next step was mocking up how the pendant would look. To do this I used a digital sculpting programme called ZBrush. This tool is great for designing jewellery, like sculpting in digital clay! It was important to have Whistlejacket in 3D, like he was coming out of the painting, so ZBrush was the perfect medium.
I proposed three different size options to the client. One where the painting was at the correct scale, and two where Whistlejacket was larger than scale.
I recommended making Whistlejacket larger so the client could see all the details. If we made the horse too small, there was the risk that all the exceptional details Stubbs was famous for would be hard to see. The client was happy with this proposal, and we agreed to make Whistlejacket fit the frame of the painting. We also decided to have his hooves, tail and muzzle touching the frame for a little bit of extra intrigue.
Communication is critical in a project like this. Design concepts went back and forth to the client until they were happy with the final results. After all, if you’re creating a bespoke piece, you want it to be 100% perfect.
When we agreed on the design, I sculpted, and 3D printed it to make a wax mould. This mould would be used to cast the final one-of-a-kind piece.
The client had a wide range of metals available to them, including platinum, palladium, rhodium and gold. They opted for 9k white gold.
White gold is always a fantastic option for jewellery as it’s hard-wearing and looks like platinum, but it is much more affordable. It’s great if you plan to wear your pendant every day, as the client intended. The back of the pendant was engraved with a hallmark as well as a message personal to the client.
The client loved their finished pendant, and it was amazing to be involved in the process of giving Whistlejacket a contemporary twist!
Looking for a bespoke piece of your own?
If you’re inspired to commission a bespoke piece of jewellery, whether it’s a pendant, ring or bracelet, I can help.
Wild Horse Club offers a bespoke jewellery-making service, providing you with a customised piece that nobody else will have.
You can choose from a range of metals and finishes, and also have your piece engraved with the message of your choice.
Get in touch today, and let’s work together to create jewellery that’s as unique as you are.
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