George Stubbs, A.R.A.
- George Stubbs, A.R.A.
- Two bay hunters in a paddock
- signed and dated, lower right: Geo: Stubbs pinxit / 1789
- oil on panel
- 90 x 137 cm.; 35 1/2 x 54 in.
Thence by descent to William Monckton Annesley, 13th Viscount Valentia (1875–1951), who sold the painting circa 1940;
With Arthur Tooth & Sons Ltd., London, 1947;
Sir Cyril Kleinwort (1905–1980), Sezincote House, Gloucestershire;
The Beaverbrook Foundation;
By whom sold ('The Property of The Beaverbrook Foundation'), London, Sotheby's, 6 July 1977, lot 67;
With Arthur Tooth & Sons Ltd., London;
Mr and Mrs William Poole, The Poole Collection, Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.A;
Their sale ('A selection of works from the Collection of Mr and Mrs William Poole'), New York, Christie’s, 8 June 1984, lot 54;
With Kurt E. Schon Ltd., New Orleans, 31 January 1989 (according to a label, verso);
Private collection, UK.
Corpus Christi, Texas, Art Museum of South Texas, British Sporting Paintings of the 18th and 19th Centuries: The Poole Collection, 11 September – 2 November 1980;
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Museum of Art, British Sporting Paintings of the 18th and 19th Centuries: The Poole Collection, 11 January – 1 February, 1981;
Charlestown, West Virginia, Museum of Sunrise, British Sporting Paintings of the 18th and 19th Centuries: The Poole Collection, 29 June – 15 August 1982;
Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Paine Art Centre and Arboretum, British Sporting Paintings of the 18th and 19th Centuries: The Poole Collection, 22 August – 31 October 1982;
Hanover, New Hampshire, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, British Sporting Paintings of the 18th and 19th Centuries: The Poole Collection, 12 November 1982 – 2 January 1983;
Abilene, Texas, Abilene Fine Arts Museum, British Sporting Paintings of the 18th and 19th Centuries: The Poole Collection, 20 February – 28 March 1983.
J. Egerton, George Stubbs, Painter. Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven and London 2007, p. 504.
The tranquil and serenely bucolic setting, straightforward it its design – a paddock in spring, with clumps of burdock in the foreground, a low paling fence curving round to a thatched shelter and distant hills beyond – far from the bustle and excitement of the racecourse, is equally typical of Stubbs’ preferred setting for his portraits of horses in the latter part of his career: the mood reflective and calm, the emphasis being on the noble dignity of the animals themselves.
The painting was commissioned by the Irish peer, Arthur Annesley, 8th Viscount Valentia, who was created Earl of Mountnorris in 1793. His father, Richard Annesley, 7th Earl of Valentia and 6th Earl of Anglesey, was a colourful character, renowned to contemporaries for the questionable legitimacy of his several marriages and for kidnapping his nephew, a rival claimant to his titles and estates: an incident which is believed to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s celebrated novel, Kidnapped. Valentia commissioned at least one other portrait by Stubbs, of a Bay Hunter by a Lake (Tate Gallery, London), which is signed and dated 1787, and it can safely be assumed that these are portraits of two horses that belonged to him.
A closely related picture, smaller in scale and seemingly depicting two different horses but with a similar, though truncated, landscape background and composition is dated 1788 (Rothschild Collection, Ascott House).2
George Stubbs’s position as the greatest animal painter of the eighteenth century was confirmed in 1766 with his publication of The Anatomy of the Horse, a project he had worked on for most of the previous decade. Born in Liverpool in 1724, the son of a currier, Stubbs had first studied anatomy at York County Hospital in 1744, under the distinguished surgeon Dr Charles Atkinson. Later, at Horkstow, in Lincolnshire, he spent the two years between 1756 and 1758 engaged in studying and dissecting horses in preparation for the publication his great magnum opus, a work the likes of which had not been seen in Europe since Carlo Ruini’s Dell’Anatomia et dell’Infirmita del Cavallo of 1598. This unprecedented work cast Stubbs at the forefront of both science and art in his understanding and knowledge of equine anatomy and propelled him into the limelight as the leading authority on the depiction of the horse. However it also gave Stubbs the training and ability to dissect and study many other animals over the course of his career, and his knowledge and understanding of the physical make up of mammals of all kinds was unparalleled by any artist of his generation.
Arriving in London in the early 1760s he quickly caught the attention of a close knit group of noblemen and members of the Jockey Club, including Lord Rockingham, Lord Grosvenor, and the Dukes of Grafton and Portland – all leading champions of the Turf – whose patronage would dominate Stubbs’s work for the next ten years. His inclusion in Étienne Falconet’s 1769 list of the twelve most reputed artists in London, however, is testament to the broader reputation he had achieved by the end of his first decade in the capital. In 1765 he has been made a Fellow of the Society of Artists of Great Britain, then the leading exhibiting society for artists in the country. Swiftly elected one of its Directors, he went on to serve as Treasurer from 1768 and President of the Society in 1772 and 1773; and he would remain the leading animal painter in Britain throughout his career. He would remain particularly famous though, then as he is now, for depictions of the horse.
By the later part of his career Stubbs’ paintings of horses went beyond mere animal portraiture, however, and strived for a concept of ideal beauty – an aspiration shared by his patrons, who at this time were investing vast sums in the creation of their own 'ideal' environment. Landscape gardening, the canalization of rivers, tree husbandry, selective livestock breeding, agricultural innovation and horticulture were all part of the ‘improving’ ethos of the late eighteenth century. This beautifully serene painting epitomises that search for an idealised beauty in nature – the tranquil harmony of two horses communing in a landscape ‘civilised’ by human hand.
Stubbs was not a prolific artist. He finished only around four hundred paintings over his entire career. By contrast, his contemporary Sir Joshua Reynolds painted nearer a thousand over a much shorter period of production, and George Romney nearly two thousand. Although a significant body of Stubbs’ work was included in his studio sale in 1809, important works by the artist have only rarely appeared on the art market in the ensuing two centuries.
1. See B. Taylor, Stubbs, London 1971.
2. Egerton 2007, p. 504, no. 274A.