GEORGE STUBBS, A.R.A.A lion devouring a horse
- George Stubbs
- A lion devouring a horse
- oil and wax on millboard
- 53.4 x 68.6 cm.; 21 x 27 in.
Paul Odo Cross and Angus Wilson, Tidcombe Manor, Wiltshire, by 1947;
Anonymous sale, London, Christie's, 22 November 1968, lot 26, for 900 guineas to Woods (as George Stubbs, A.R.A.);
Clare Moore and Amanda Cadle;
Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY;
By whom de-accessioned ('The Property of Everson Museum of Art sold to benefit the Acquisition Fund'), London, Christie's, 17 November 1989, lot 97 (as circle of George Stubbs);
Where acquired by the present owner.
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, George Stubbs, 1951, no. 6 (lent by Odo Cross).
B. Taylor, 'George Stubbs: 'The Lion and Horse' Theme', in The Burlington Magazine, vol. CVII, no. 743, February 1965, pp. 81 and 86, appendix no. 2 (where the medium and size are given incorrectly as oil on canvas, 8 x 12 in.)
By George Stubbs in soft ground etching with roulette work, published 1 May 1788.
Invariably suggestive of antique sculpture, rather than the painterly tradition of animal combats found in seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Europe, and shaped by a classical sense of monumentality, as Basil Taylor was the first to identify, the ultimate source for Stubbs’ subject appears to have been his trip to Italy in 1754. Specifically Taylor traced the spark of inspiration to a Roman copy of a Hellenistic carving of a lion attacking a horse that Stubbs would undoubtedly have seen in the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome. Characterised by a dynamic symmetry and a vital stability that evokes a sense of Renaissance monumentality, Stubbs’ composition has no precedent in English art and demonstrates an extraordinary artistic sophistication.
On stylistic grounds this painting can be dated to the mid-1770s, when the Stubbs’ handling became more soft-edged and his tones darker. It was also during this period that his technique became increasingly experimental, adopting both new methods and mediums, including the use of wax mixed into his oil paints, which technical examination has shown to be evident in this picture – a material that was not used by any of his contemporaries. Equally the support used, a piece of course fibred composite artist’s millboard, not in general use among British artists until the 1770s, is consistent with his practise at this time and is similar to that used in Stubbs' study of a Bailey’s Monkey and Mr Gough’s Monkey, painted for Dr John Hunter (The Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons). The composition of the work, both in terms of the anatomical details and the background landscape, corresponds closely, in mirror image, to Stubbs’ own engraving of the composition, published in 1788 (fig. 2), the prototype for which has always been listed as untraced and which Boyd, Dixon and Clayton erroneously assumed to be an enamel.1 It is almost certain, however, that the present work is in fact the original source for the print and it should therefore not be a surprise to find that the picture remained in Stubbs studio at his death.
Lot 69 in the posthumous sale of Stubbs’ studio contents is described in the catalogue as ‘Lion devouring a Horse – a most spirited Picture’. An annotated copy of the catalogue gives the size of this picture as 2 x 2 ¼ feet (24 x 27 in.), which does not fit with any of the other known versions of the composition. As all these annotated measurements were given to the nearest quarter of a foot, however, this corresponds closely with the dimensions of the present work, which measures 21 x 27 in., and it seems almost certain that this was the picture sold in Stubbs’ studio sale. The name of the buyer is not recorded in any of the seven surviving copies of the sale catalogue, however it has often been assumed that all the pictures without buyers' names attached to them were bought by Isabella Saltonstall, Stubbs’ friend and patron who features in a portrait by the artist as Una and the Lion, from Spenser’s ‘Faerie Queene’ (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge).
Judy Egerton, who had reservations about the attribution, left this picture out of her 2007 catalogue of Stubbs’ work. However the picture has recently been cleaned and we are grateful to Alex Kidson for endorsing the attribution following first-hand inspection. Basil Taylor, who knew this picture in the 1960s, thought that 'its authenticity seems secure'.2
1 C. Lennox-Boyd, R. Dixon and T. Clayton, George Stubbs. The Complete Engraved Works, London 1989, pp. 188–89, no. 71.
2 Taylor 1965, p. 81.