Posted on

George Stubbs

stubbsGeorge Stubbs (25 August 1724 – 10 July 1806) was an English painter, best known for his paintings of horses.

Stubbs was born in Liverpool, the son of a currier and leather merchant. Information on his life up to age thirty-five is sparse, relying almost entirely on notes made by fellow artist Ozias Humphry (himself famous for his portrait of Edward Austen-Leigh, as well as the Rice Portrait) towards the end of Stubbs’s life. Stubbs worked at his father’s trade until he was 15 or 16, and after his father’s death in 1741 was briefly apprenticed to a Lancashire painter and engraver named Hamlet Winstanley. He soon left as he objected to the work of copying to which he was set. Thereafter as an artist he was self-taught. In the 1740s he worked as a portrait painter in the North of England and from about 1745 to 1751 he studied human anatomy at York County Hospital. He had had a passion for anatomy from his childhood, and one of his earliest surviving works is a set of illustrations for a textbook on midwifery which was published in 1751.

In 1754 Stubbs visited Italy. Forty years later he told Ozias Humphry that his motive for going to Italy was, “to convince himself that nature was and is always superior to art whether Greek or Roman, and having renewed this conviction he immediately resolved upon returning home”. In 1756 he rented a farmhouse in the village of Horkstow, Lincolnshire, and spent 18 months dissecting horses, assisted by his common-law wife, Mary Spencer. He moved to London in about 1759 and in 1766 published The anatomy of the Horse. The original drawings are now in the collection of the Royal Academy.

Mares and Foals in a Landscape. 1763-68.
Mares and Foals in a Landscape. 1763-68.

Even before his book was published, Stubbs’s drawings were seen by leading aristocratic patrons, who recognised that his work was more accurate than that of earlier horse painters such as James Seymour, Peter Tillemans and John Wootton. In 1759 the 3rd Duke of Richmond commissioned three large pictures from him, and his career was soon secure. By 1763 he had produced works for several more dukes and other lords and was able to buy a house in Marylebone, a fashionable part of London, where he lived for the rest of his life.

Whistlejacket by George Stubbs (1724–1806) circa 1762
Whistlejacket by George Stubbs (1724–1806) circa 1762

His most famous work is probably Whistlejacket, a painting of a prancing horse commissioned by the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, which is now in the National Gallery in London. This and two other paintings carried out for Rockingham break with convention in having plain backgrounds. Throughout the 1760s he produced a wide range of individual and group portraits of horses, sometimes accompanied by hounds. He often painted horses with their grooms, whom he always painted as individuals. Meanwhile he also continued to accept commissions for portraits of people, including some group portraits. From 1761 to 1776 he exhibited at the Society of Artists, but in 1775 he switched his allegiance to the recently founded but already more prestigious Royal Academy.

A Lion Attacking a Horse, oil on canvas, 1770, by Stubbs. Yale University Art Gallery
A Lion Attacking a Horse, oil on canvas, 1770, by Stubbs. Yale University Art Gallery

Stubbs also painted more exotic animals including lions, tigers, giraffes, monkeys, and rhinoceroses, which he was able to observe in private menageries. He became preoccupied with the theme of a wild horse threatened by a lion and produced several variations on this theme. These and other works became well known at the time through engravings of Stubbs’s work, which appeared in increasing numbers in the 1770s and 1780s.

George IV when Prince of Wales, 1791
George IV when Prince of Wales, 1791

Stubbs also painted historical pictures, but these are much less well regarded. From the late 1760s he produced some work on enamel. In the 1770s Josiah Wedgwood developed a new and larger type of enamel panel at Stubbs’s request. Stubbs hoped to achieve commercial success with his paintings in enamel, but the venture left him in debt. Also in the 1770s he painted single portraits of dogs for the first time, while also receiving an increasing number of commissions to paint hunts with their packs of hounds. He remained active into his old age. In the 1780s he produced a pastoral series called Haymakers and Reapers, and in the early 1790s he enjoyed the patronage of the Prince of Wales, whom he painted on horseback in 1791. His last project, begun in 1795, was A comparative anatomical exposition of the structure of the human body with that of a tiger and a common fowl, fifteen engravings from which appeared between 1804 and 1806. The project was left unfinished upon Stubbs’s death at the age of 81 on 10 July 1806, in London.

Stubbs’s son George Townly Stubbs was an engraver and printmaker.


From Wikipedia.com

Posted on

Fitzwilliam Darcy and the Godolphin Arabian

Sea Biscuit, Man o’ War, War Admiral…these are the names of some of the most famous race horses of all time and while there may be six degrees of separation for everything and everyone, at first glance, there may not seem to be much connection between them to Jane Austen.

My daughter (along with at least half of the seven year old girl population) is currently fascinated by horses and I recently picked up Marguerite Henry’s King of the Wind for her to read. The story is a fictionalized account of the Godolphin Arabian. I had not realized that it was a true story when I first began to peruse it, but I quickly became engrossed in the story, which reads like any fairy tale (and, of course, has a happy ending!)

The Godolphin Arabian, painted by George Stubbs, some time before 1806.
The Godolphin Arabian, painted by George Stubbs, some time before 1806.

According to Wikipedia, “the Godolphin Arabian (c. 1724 – 1753), was an Arabian horse who was one of three stallions that were the founders of the modern Thoroughbred horse racing bloodstock (the other two are the Darley Arabian and the Byerley Turk). He was given his name for his best-known owner, Francis Godolphin, 2nd Earl of Godolphin.

The Godolphin Arabian was foaled about 1724 in Yemen, but moved several times before reaching England. At some time in his early years, he was exported, probably via Syria, to the stud of the Bey of Tunis. From there he was given to Louis XV of France in 1730. It is believed he was a present from monarch to monarch. Even so, he was not valued by his new French owner, and it is believed he was used as a carthorse.

Continue reading Fitzwilliam Darcy and the Godolphin Arabian