G e o r g e S t u b b s :
A S y m p a t h e t i c A n i m a l i e r
In the late eighteenth century George Stubbs (1724 to 1806) brought the art of painting animals, especially dogs and horses to a new level of refinement. He is now considered one of the master painters in British art. Stubbs' use of natural gestures, realistic expressions and an unmistakable sympathy for his subjects not only gave him the reputation as the finest equine painter of his time but helped introduce a golden era in dog art. From the mid-eighteenth century through the Victorian age, England and France witnessed the creation of some of the greatest dog art in history.
What is important in understanding Stubbs' portraits of horses and dogs is that they were never created as genre scenes or sporting images but as portraits of individual creatures that were admired and respected. His paintings capture the nobility and unique character of his canine and equine subjects with the same reverence that most portrait painters reserve for the portrayal of their human subjects. While Stubbs' renderings of his subjects were often magnificent they always took precedent over the landscape or setting. This was the secret to both his greatest achievement and his biggest limitation.
George Stubbs His interest in anatomy was one of the driving passions of Stubbs' life. His great anatomical knowledge combined with precise draughtsman-like skill in animal portraiture earned him a great reputation as a painter-scientist. He would portray a baboon, cheetah or rhinoceros with as much enthusiasm and sympathy as he would depict a horse or a dog. In the 1770's Stubbs etched the plates for Anatomy of the Horse, which was hugely successful and became a major work of reference for naturalists and artists alike. He knew enough of human anatomy to enable him to teach medical students at the hospital in York.
Stubbs was neither a sportsman nor a member of the sporting aristocracy that patronized his art. He was a dedicated artist and a simple man who pursued his own interests rather than those suggested by the society of the day. To his misfortune he never gained the celebrity of contemporary artists like Gainsborough, Reynolds and Hogarth. For all his accomplishments in painting, natural science and the study of anatomy Stubbs has been so often categorized as simply a horse and dog painter, a "turf and hunt" sporting specialist. Only relatively recently has his work been rediscovered and given the credit it deserves.