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George Stubbs appears to have had a natural talent for portraiture and little formal instruction. His early career as a provincial portrait painter took him to the towns of Leeds, Wigan, York and Hull. He had however a great scientific curiosity typical of many of the Renaissance masters and, like Leonardo, throughout his life made extensive studies of both human and animal anatomy.

His great anatomical knowledge – shown in The Anatomy of the Horse 1766 - combined with precise draughtsmanlike skill in portraiture earned him the accolade of "the greatest painter-scientist in the history of art".

At the age of 30 he travelled to Rome. On his way back, staying at Ceuta in Morocco, he supposedly saw a lion in the moonlight stalking and pouncing on a white Barbary horse. He was haunted by this image, and depicted the various stages of the encounter - the approach, the fear, the attack. The resulting series, a 'beauty and the beast' sublimation, had a dream-like which conveyed feelings of disquiet and menace along with a certain detachment.

On his return to England he started his study of the horse. Racing had recently revived as a sport. He reasoned that a detailed work of reference on the horse's structure would be of great use to bloodstock breeders.

His portraits tended to delight his patrons, including the Marquis of Rockingham who owned Whistlejacket, the fiery stallion which attacked Stubbs during a portrait 'sitting' at Wentworth, causing him to defend himself with a stick. .

In the same period he was sought consulted by the explorer Sir Joseph Banks, who voyaged with Captain Cook. He was commissioned to paint the first kangaroo brought to England.  Also a moose, a baboon,  rhinoceros, macaque monkey and a yak. Stubbs experimented with enamel paints fired onto copper plates and consulted Josiah Wedgewood about the possibility of making large pottery plaques on which the enamel process could be used.

Stubbs recorded much that was typical of his time. He conveys the essence of rural life in its 'golden age' - that of the great landowners whose mansions were the focal point of social life, sport and the arts - his pictures are considered as idyllic masterpieces. He was also a master of the art of depicting class distinction, although the servants of the great houses are portrayed with understanding and without condescension. No sportsman himself, his patrons came mainly from the sporting aristocracy, which led his work, until the twentieth century, to be categorised alongside that of the several sporting specialists of the turf and hunt, and in his day he never gained the celebrity of his compatriots Gainsborough, Reynolds and Hogarth.





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