This is one of my favourite paintings of all time. To really appreciate it you need to see it in its setting in the National Gallery in London. It is breath taking. I love it because I love horses, their strength, their grace, the power and the gentleness and delicate spirit which can so easily be broken.
It's Whistlejacket by Stubbs.
I discovered it when I visited the National Gallery in between meetings in London about twenty odd years ago. When I look at it now, it has even deeper meaning. I can see myself in the wildness of the race horse. Or rather I can see the power of my unfettered emotions in it.
It is not an accident that the horse is portrayed without constraints rearing on its hind legs - unfettered. Interesting that in looking at its flailing hooves, it can be considered either as a threat to those around it or in fear of those around it. This is a creature who has been trained to use the power of its muscles to race. But in this portrait the artist has chosen to capture the natural power of the horse.
And this is where I begin to recognise myself in his eyes. Animals have to be taught to be aggressive towards humans. A puppy or a kitten is all trust. The claws and teeth come out in earnest as they learn through bitter experience that sometimes the hand that feeds can also cause pain. It is not hard to spot the abused dog in the park when you reach your hand out to touch them - they flinch. It's not far from the behaviour seen in hurting humans.
There is nothing that we as watchers can see that is causing such fear and terror in the horse, but we know that it is real to him. For me that has been my experience of mental and emotional distress down the years. People around me may have witnessed the outworking of the extremes of emotion, but could not see the cause of such distress.
When I look long enough at the painting, the fear in his eyes fades and I am able to focus on his beauty, his strength and the portrait of this great racehorse in his entirety. My experience of BPD is not the entire story of my life, nor is my condition the entirety of me. If you observe and notice me long enough, hopefully you will see I am more than my emotions, that I am a fully rounded human being with a modicum of grace (I hope) and a spirit that has not been broken.