George Stubbs

George Stubbs ARA (25 August 1724 – 10 July 1806) was an English painter, best known for his paintings of horses. Self-trained, Stubbs learnt his skills independently from other great artists of the eighteenth century such as Reynolds or Gainsborough. Stubbs' output includes history paintings, but his greatest skill was in painting animals, perhaps influenced by his love and study of anatomy. His most famous painting, Whistlejacket, hangs in the National Gallery, London.

George Stubbs
George Stubbs
A self-portrait by George Stubbs
Born(1724-08-25)25 August 1724
Died10 July 1806(1806-07-10) (aged 81)


Stubbs was born in Liverpool, the son of a currier, or leather-dresser, John Stubbs, and his wife Mary.[1] Information on his life until the age of 35 or so is sparse, relying almost entirely on notes made by Ozias Humphry, a fellow artist and friend; Humphry's informal memoir, which was not intended for publication, was based on a series of private conversations he had with Stubbs around 1794, when Stubbs was 70 years old, and Humphry 52.[1]

Stubbs worked at his father's trade until the age of 15 or 16, at which point he told his father that he wished to become a painter.[2][3] While initially resistant, Stubbs's father (who died not long after in 1741), eventually acquiesced in his son's choice of a career path, on the condition that he could find an appropriate mentor.[3] Stubbs subsequently approached the Lancashire painter and engraver Hamlet Winstanley, and was briefly engaged by him in a sort of apprenticeship relationship, probably not more than several weeks in duration.[4] Having initially demonstrated his abilities and agreed to do some copying work, Stubbs had access to and opportunity to study the collection at Knowsley Hall near Liverpool, the estate where Winstanley was then residing; however, he soon left when he came into conflict with the older artist over exactly which pictures he could work on copying.[4]

Throughout his career, Stubbs created seventeen works in various media on the theme of a lion stalking or attacking a horse, one example being A Lion Attacking a Horse (1765), held at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Thereafter as an artist he was self-taught. He had had a passion for anatomy from his childhood,[2] and in or around 1744, he moved to York, in the North of England, to pursue his ambition to study the subject under experts.[5] In York, from 1745 to 1753, he worked as a portrait painter, and studied human anatomy under the surgeon Charles Atkinson, at York County Hospital,[6] One of his earliest surviving works is a set of illustrations for a textbook on midwifery by John Burton, Essay towards a Complete New System of Midwifery, published in 1751.[6]

In 1754 Stubbs visited Italy.[7] 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.[8] 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.

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.

His most famous work is probably Whistlejacket, a painting of the thoroughbred race horse rising on his hind legs, 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 of Great Britain, but in 1775 he switched his allegiance to the recently founded but already more prestigious Royal Academy of Arts.

Stubbs also painted more exotic animals including lions, tigers, giraffes, monkeys, and rhinoceroses, which he was able to observe in private menageries.

His painting of a kangaroo was the first glimpse of this animal for many 18th-century Britons.[9] 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.

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.[10] 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. He was buried in the graveyard of Marylebone Church, now a public garden.

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


Stubbs remained a secondary figure in British art until the mid-twentieth century. The art historian Basil Taylor and art collector Paul Mellon both championed Stubbs's work. Stubbs's Pumpkin with a Stable-lad was the first painting that Mellon bought in 1936.[11] Basil Taylor was commissioned in 1955 by Pelican Press to write the book Animal Painting in England – From Barlow to Landseer, which included a large segment on Stubbs. In 1959 Mellon and Taylor first met and bonded over their appreciation of Stubbs. This led Mellon to create the Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art (The predecessor of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art) with Taylor as the director.[12] Mellon eventually amassed the largest collection of Stubbs paintings in the world which would become a part of his larger collection of British art that would become the Yale Center for British Art.[13] In 1971, Taylor published the seminal catalogue, Stubbs.[14]

Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a Trainer, a Stable-lad, and a Jockey (1765)

The record price for a Stubbs painting was set by the sale at auction of Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a Trainer, a Stable-Lad, and a Jockey (1765) at Christie's in London in July 2011 for £22.4 million. It was sold by the British Woolavington Collection of sporting art; the buyer was unidentified. [15]

The British Royal Collection holds 16 paintings by Stubbs.[16]

Two paintings by Stubbs were bought by the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London after a public appeal to raise the £1.5 million required.[17] The two paintings, The Kongouro from New Holland and Portrait of a Large Dog were both painted in 1772.[17] Depicting a kangaroo and a dingo respectively, they are the first depictions of Australian animals in Western art.[17]

List of selected artworksEdit

Mares and Foals in a Landscape, 1763–1768.
In the Yale Center for British Art
  • Self-Portrait (1759)
  • The Countess of Coningsby in the Costume of the Charlton Hunt (c. 1760)
  • Lustre, held by a Groom (c. 1762)
  • Newmarket Heath, with the King's stables rubbing house at the finish of the Beacon Course (c. 1765)
  • Turf, with Jockey up, at Newmarket (c. 1766)
  • A Lion Attacking a Horse (1762)
  • Two Gentlemen Going a Shooting, with a View of Creswell Crags, Taken on the Spot (c. 1767)
  • Two Gentlemen Going a Shooting (c. 1768)
  • Two Gentlemen Shooting (c. 1769)
  • A Repose after Shooting (1770)
  • Zebra (exhibited 1763)
  • Pumpkin with a Stable-lad (c. 1774)
  • Sleeping Leopard (1777)
  • Brown and White Norfolk or Water Spanield (c. 1778)
  • Greenland Falcon (c. 1780)
  • Phaeton with a Pair of Cream Ponies and a Stable-Lad (between 1780–1784)
  • Labourers (1781)
  • Bulls Fighting (c. 1786)
  • The Farmer's Wife and the Raven (1786)
  • Reapers (1795)
  • Freeman, the Earl of Clarendon's gamekeeper, with a dying doe and hound (1800)
  • A Comparative Anatomical Exposition of the Human Body with that of a Tiger and a Common Fowl (1795–1806)
In the National Gallery, London
  • Whistlejacket (1762)
  • A Gentleman driving a Lady in a Phaeton (1787)
  • The Milbanke and Melbourne Families (c.1769)
In the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
In the National Museums Liverpool
  • A Lion and Tiger (1779)
  • A Monkey (1799)
  • 'Gnawpost' and Two Other Colts (c.1793)
  • Haycarting (1795)
  • Haymakers (1794)
  • Horse and Lioness (1775–1800)
  • Horse Frightened by a Lion
  • James Stanley (1755)
  • 'Molly Long-Legs' with Her Jockey
  • Self Portrait on a White Hunter (1782)
  • The Farmer's Wife and the Raven (1782)
In the Royal Collection
  • "Pumpkin" with William South Up (c.1770–1775)
  • Sir Sidney Medows (1778)
  • John Christian Santhague (1782)
  • A Rough Dog (1790)
  • A Bay Horse with a Groom (1791)
  • John Gascoigne with a Bay Horse (1791)
  • Portrait of a Gentleman (1791)
  • Fino and Tiny (1791)
  • Baronet with Samuel Chifney (1791)
  • A Red Deer, a Buck and a Doe (1792)
  • Soldiers of the 10th Light Dragoons (1793)
  • William Anderson with two Saddle-Horses (1793)
  • A Grey Horse (1793)
  • A Grey Horse (1793)
  • Laetitia, Lady Lade (1793)
  • The Prince of Wales's Phaeton (1793)
    In the Tate Gallery
  • A Grey Hunter with a Groom and a Greyhound at Creswell Crags (c.1762‑1764)
  • Horse Devoured by a Lion (exhibited 1763)
  • Horse Frightened by a Lion (exhibited 1763)
  • Mares and Foals in a River Landscape (c.1763‑1768)
  • Newmarket Heath, with a Rubbing-Down House (c.1765)
  • Otho, with John Larkin up (1768)
  • Horse Attacked by a Lion (1769)
  • Mother and Child (1774)
  • Horse in the Shade of a Wood (1780)
  • Leopards at Play (1780)
  • Portrait of a Young Gentleman Out Shooting (1781)
  • Haymakers (1785)
  • Reapers (1785)
  • Bay Hunter by a Lake (1787)
  • A Foxhound published (1788)
  • A Foxhound Viewed from Behind published (1788)
  • A Horse Attacked by a Lion (A Lion Devouring a Horse) (published 1788)
  • A Lion Resting on a Rock published (1788)
In other collections
Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow
  • The Moose (1770)
  • The Nilgai (1769)
  • A Blackbuck (1770–1780)
Hunterian Museum (London)
  • The Yak of Tartary (1791)
  • Rhinoceros (1790–1792)
  • Drill and Albino Baboon (before 1789)
British Sporting Art Trust
  • A Pointer (a pair)
  • A Spaniel (a pair)
  • Lord Clanbrassil with Hunter Mowbrary (1769)
  • Fighting Stallions (1791)
National Trust
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Goose with Outspread Wings
  • Lions and a Lioness with a Rocky Background (1776)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Egerton, Judy (2007). George Stubbs, Painter: Catalogue raisonné. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300125092. p. 10.
  2. ^ a b Monkhouse, William Cosmo (1898). "Stubbs, George (1724–1806)". In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 55. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 113–116.
  3. ^ a b Egerton (2007), p. 12.
  4. ^ a b Egerton (2007), p. 13.
  5. ^ Egerton (2007), p. 16.
  6. ^ a b "Chronology" (p. 12–13), in: George Stubbs, 1724–1806. Tate Gallery Publications; Yale Center for British Art. Salem, NH: Salem House, 1985. ISBN 0881620386. Catalogue of an exhibition held at the Tate Gallery, London, 17 October 1984 – 6 January1985, and at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Conn., 13 February – 7 April 1985; paintings for the exhibition selected by Judy Egerton, Assistant Keeper of the British Collection (Foreword).
  7. ^ The Great Artists: part 50: Stubbs. 1985. London: Marshall Cavendish Ltd. p. 1571.
  8. ^ The Great Artists: part 50: Stubbs. 1985. London: Marshall Cavendish Ltd. p. 1572.
  9. ^ The i newspaper. 21 June 2013. p. 2.[title missing]
  10. ^ The Great Artists: part 50: Stubbs. 1985. London: Marshall Cavendish Ltd. p. 1574.
  11. ^ Angus Trumble (January 2007). "Collection Record: Pumpkin with a Stable-lad". Yale Center for British Art.
  12. ^ "History of the Paul Mellon Centre 1962–1969". Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. Archived from the original on 29 April 2018. Retrieved 28 April 2018.
  13. ^ "George Stubbs in the Collection of Paul Mellon: A Memorial Exhibition". Yale Center for British Art. Archived from the original on 17 September 2019. Retrieved 28 April 2018.
  14. ^ Basil, Taylor (1971). Stubbs. London: Phaidon Press. ISBN 0-714-81498-9.
  15. ^ Scott Reyburn (6 July 2011). "Stubbs, Gainsborough Records Boost $80 Million Auction". Bloomberg.
  16. ^ "Search results: George Stubbs (1724–1806)". Royal Collection.
  17. ^ a b c "George Stubbs' kangaroo and dingo paintings to stay in UK". BBC News Online. 6 November 2013. Retrieved 6 November 2013.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit