Stubbs (1724-1806) was born to a leather currier’s family so probably was used to seeing skinned carcasses which may have fuelled his interest in anatomy. He spent some of his twenties as an engravers apprentice but is said to have not found the work to his liking. He went on to support him self as a portrait artist whilst studying anatomy at a hospital.
He began to specialising in equines around 1750. He spent many months dissecting and drawing horse carcasses and started to make a living painting horses for wealth patrons. It wasn’t long before he was herald as a master of equestrian art. It was widely thought that his horses were far more life like than those prior and his contemporaries.
This Stubbs painting of Whistle jacket which hangs n the National Gallery London is a favourite of mine. There are accounts from the time that suggest painting was ment to incorporate George III and a landscape at a later date. In the 17th century it was usual for several artist to collaborate of large important paintings. Each specialising in landscape, portrait, animal etc.
Other accounts say Stubbs had always intended it as it is. For this period it was unusual not to add a back drop by Stubbs has used this in other paintings so as not to distinct from his fine anatomical representation.
Stubbs painted racing thoroughbreds. The painting of the grumpy looking Ruffus allows Stubs to show off his anatomical knolage to the full as the horse is lean and race fit. Looking at the faces of both of these we can see the animals distinct character. Whisteljacket with eyes open wide and ears ford has a friendly quizzical, slightly surprised look. Whereas Ruffus has ears pined back, muzzle extended as if he is champing his teeth and a steeling fixed stare warns us to stay back. I like how Stubbs not only paints the creatures correctly (if a little overly romanticised) but shows us there unique character too as all good portrait painters should.
These anatomical studies of skeleton and muscular
These anatomical studies of muscle and skeleton made my Stubbs helped him to produce the paintings beloved y many. In this way he could study not only the shape but the limitations on the animals movement by seeing how the joints could bend and flex. This helped him to portray the horse in its natural gaits. Previously it had been assumed horse cantered and gallop like a dog with all four legs of the ground stretched in front and behind then going together. Which is not the case.
The racing scene bellow by James Pollard painted in 1831 after Stubbs death illustrates how the horses gallop gait was imagined to be. Stubbs tireless studies helped to correct this a portray the horse in an over all more naturalistic way.
I cloud continue with this subject indefinitely and will start to look at some other of the many examples of horses in art throughout the ages as part of my personal research and reflection. But for now I must leave it here.