George Stubbs: Equine Genius

Royal Copenhagen Danish Modern Mare & Foal Sculpture by Knud Kyhn

On this day in 1724, British artist George Stubbs was born in Liverpool to a leather “currier” (finisher) and merchant.  He worked with his father until he was 16, at which point he was apprenticed to a local painter and engraver, a position which didn’t last long—Stubbs did not like the repetitive copying which was required of him.  From that point on, Stubbs was entirely self-taught as an artist.  He did, however, study anatomy (a subject he loved) at the York County Hospital.  His earliest surviving drawings are for a medical book on midwifery, published in 1751.  He also spent time in a rented Lincolnshire farmhouse dissecting horses.

In 1760, he published “The Anatomy of the Horse,”  of which the original drawings are in the Royal Academy, London.  This brought him to the attention of wealthy horse owners who quickly commissioned him to paint their animals.  This work made George Stubbs a wealthy man.

Stubbs painted other animals—his painting of a kangaroo was the first image many Britons had of this animal—as well as human portraits and historical scenes.  But it was horses which made George Stubbs famous—not to mention his precise understanding of anatomy and how to put it onto canvas.

While the stoneware mare and foal, shown above, was made in Denmark, some 200 years after Stubbs, perhaps she might have been immortalized by the great painter had she lived in an earlier century.