(Liverpool 1724 – 1806 London)
Largely self-taught as an artist, George Stubbs is famed for his study of anatomy, which enabled him to paint horses, dogs and wild animals with great accuracy. Such works were the basis of his contemporary reputation, although he also painted portraits and conversation pieces.
Stubbs began his studies under the artist, Winston Langley (1694-1756), copying the paintings in the collection of Edward Stanley, 11th Earl of Derby, at Knowsley Hall, near Liverpool. Disliking copying, he left to teach himself to paint at home. In 1745, he moved to York, where he attended the anatomy classes of Charles Atkinson and was invited by Dr. John Burton to illustrate his book on obstetrics using drawings of dissections at which he assisted. At that time, in addition to these anatomical studies, he painted portraits in Liverpool, Leeds and York, among other places. In 1754 he travelled to Rome. According to Ozias Humphrey’s memoir of Stubbs’ life, he found nothing to admire or draw there and left convinced that ‘nature was and is always superior to art whether Greek or Roman.’ However, a certain balance and restraint, no doubt the result of his study of classical art on this trip, is apparent in his works (for a full discussion of the importance of this Italian experience, see N. Hall, ‘Fearful Symmetry, George Stubbs painter of the English Enlightenment’, in the catalogue of the eponymous exhibition, Hall & Knight, New York, 2000, pp. 11-35).
In 1756, Stubbs dedicated himself to the study of the horse. Working in a farmhouse at Horkstow in Lincolnshire, he dissected horses and made detailed drawings of the muscles, tendons and bones in order to gain the knowledge needed to paint living horses. He settled in London probably in 1758 and following the publication in 1766 of his book, The Anatomy of Horses, which was the result of his studies at Horkstow, he received many commissions from noblemen interested in breeding and racing horses. His patrons included Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond; Richard Grosvenor, 1st Earl Grosvenor; and Charles Weston-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham. From 1761-1775, he regularly exhibited at the Society of Artists, of which he was elected president in 1772. From 1775 to 1803 he exhibited at the Royal Academy, although his election as RA in 1780 was nullified because he refused to paint an admission piece. In the early 1790s, Stubbs found a new patron in the Prince of Wales (later George IV) for whom he painted at least 18 oils. In 1795, he began another book on anatomy, which remained unfinished at his death in 1806.
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