Monday 24 June 2024

Horses and Exotic Animals in the 1700s ...

 

I gave a talk recently on George Stubbs (1724 – 1806) – known as the 'horse painter' … a man who shunned the conventional way of artistic learning: copying others' works – he taught himself.

Whistlejacket (1762)
Probably his most famous painting


He'd have none of it … his drawings, paintings, etchings would be 'all done from Nature'. Starting young, aged 8, he drew bones loaned from a doctor in his home town of Liverpool, unfortunately none survive …




Horses coming in, in all directions


... and that is the (lack of) story of Stubbs' life – he was a loner … silent to the world ... other than the extraordinary artistic works he left us.




side view Skeleton of a horse (1766)
{Courtesy of Wellcome Cllection}


Some notes were correlated in the 1800s – which became known as the (Ozias) Humphry (1742-1810)/(Joseph) Mayer(1803-1886) 'essay'.





Poor little zebra - her mate died on the
journey over; Stubbs painted her in her
green setting - not at all usual - but his
backgrounds were guessed at ... he never
left Europe. (1763)
He is known today mostly for his incredible horse paintings … yet probably his greatest skill was in the study of anatomy of animals. Two hundred and fifty years later … his horse ones are still considered definitive …



Cheetah and Stag with two Indians (1765)
It is painted as the Indian way of hunting with
cheetah, using a collar and sash to restrain
the animal, the hood has been pushed back
as she's about to be released.
(This was commissioned by Lord Pigot, who
had been Governor of Madras)

Before I go on – a thought … how will future generations think of us: 250 years on (2275 AD or so)??… as we are progressing life, so were our ancestors – many not in a way we approve of today.



Two Leopards  (c1776)

The 1700s were when lots of change was happening … scientific, exploration and agricultural revolutions … menageries were held by the wealthy and royals …



Rhinoceros (1780 - 91)
This was commissioned by Dr John Hunter -
the brother of William Hunter both Scottish
physicians and anatomists.
Poor animal died of injuries inflicted as a 
result of its predilection for sweet wine -
it's hard to be sure!


The art work I show here are of his exotics … due to the demand of the wealthy … whereby Stubbs could spend time at menageries to study these creatures … so accurate, even today …





Soldiers of the 10th Light Infantry (1793)
The King commissioned it.  Very stilted -
as was the norm in the 1700s

Then I came across the work being done by Pauleen Bennett an Australian scientist studying anthrozoology at La Trobe University, in Victoria, Australia – a field of study she founded.



The human body


Stubbs at the end of his life was wanting to compare the anatomy of the Human Body ... 


Common fowl


... with a common fowl, and a tiger body - sadly they were never finished.




Tiger body
We have moved on … we continue to learn, study, research – yet George Stubbs gave us this amazing record of anatomy … while letting us see his beautiful art works …



Self-portrait in 1782


I'd love to know what our successors will think about us in 250 years time … and obviously your thoughts on George Stubbs' …



I've included many of his exotics with notes, together with one or two of his anatomical horse engravings ... 

Royal Academy of Arts – George Stubbs …

The artsdesk.com – review of exhibition I saw in 2019 in Milton Keynes, UK

Wikipedia's article on Pauleen Bennett - anthrozoologist

Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

27 comments:

Kay G. said...

That horse painting, what did you say it was called, "Whistlejacket"? I am sure that must be the one that is at The National Gallery in London. It is displayed so perfectly. And it is huge! That is something I remember. Hope to see it again one day!

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari Om
Lovely, Hilary. He really had something special, did Stubbs, when it came to 'seeing' the animals. YAM xx

Elephant's Child said...

As always, thanks for the links. Stunning work - and he really did go to basics to perfect his work. As did others. Michelangelo also I think I remember studied anatomy to perfect his work.
How will we be remembered in 250 years? I shudder to think. And sadly some of Stubb's exotica will be even more exotic than they are/were...

Liz A. said...

Going your own way is a good way to shake off the preconceptions of previous generations. He definitely charted his own path.

Pradeep Nair said...

Very interesting to note that Stubbs combined painting with anatomy. That's quite unique. Works of art acquire a charm of their own with time, don't they?

jabblog said...

It's difficult to talk about someone whose private life was so very private. I wonder how he became involved in midwifery, though.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Kay – yes you're right Whistlejacket is in the National Gallery – occasionally works of art get leant out … and this did here … it was an amazing exhibition – and as it was in Milton Keynes very near to some friends … I went to stay with them so we could all go. I hope you can get over to see it again in the future.

@ Yam – you're so right … he was incredibly special – and so so talented. He rented an isolated farm building – where he could learn as he dissected each layer of the horse … it's thought he was indifferent to the odour of putridity. He erected a pulley system … so he could see and get to see each part of the horse as he stripped it … right down to its skeleton.

@ EC – thank you … there's some wonderful sites showing his work – yet the three books I had told me so much more in simple terms – a blessing via the lack of actual documents. Yes he's been compared to Michaelangeo … except Michaelangelo only studied the human body …

Re your 250 years hence comment – so right in both thoughts … shuddering and more loss of our natural world …

@ Liz – he most definitely charted his own path in the days when it wasn't the norm …

@ Pradeep – he's the only person to have been able to draw and subsequently paint an animal as he'd peeled back all their layers. He understood the workings of the bodies.

Actually you're right – the rest of the population had to come to terms with Stubbs' art – each generation thinks they know the way, until brought to their senses: the difference can be seen in the Light Infantry painting – stilted. I'm just grateful we have people who can decipher works of art …

@ Janice – he just steppped of the 'normal path' of life – he wasn't out for himself – as long as he could earn enough, he could then study, paint and etch in other hours – day and night.

The midwifery aspect – was as an illustrator and lecturer to students in York – when he worked in the infirmary … and was spotted by Dr John Burton (man-midwife) who was writing his midwifery book, who used his engravings to illustrate the aspects Dr Burton wanted to bring to the attention of the medical world, making it safer to have children. Apparently in Lawrence Sterne's Tristam Shandy – the choleric physician 'Dr Slop' was drawn from …

I hope I've answered a few questions … I couldn't reproduce my talk … too long! Cheers Hilary

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

It's very difficult to write or talk about the work of artists in any meaningful way; even when they leave many diaries and letters. They rarely speak of their art in anything but the most superficial way. Most of what they achieve goes on within their heads - and many artists seem to not even understand that in any great depth.
I think it was fairly common at one time for artists to be interested in anatomy and to attend public dissections which were primarily conducted for the medical profession. The church was against this practice as they felt it to be desecration of the dead but allowed dissection of criminals.

Hels said...

Stubbs is a great choice of artists for me! We have a connection.

The National Gallery of Australia believed it should own 18th Century paintings by George Stubbs of a dingo and a kangaroo, rather than the UK. The works were subject to an export bar that prevented them leaving the UK. So London's National Maritime Museum wanted to save them for themselves. I don't remember why Sir David Attenborough was involved.

David M. Gascoigne, said...

I knew of Stubbs but briefly, Hilary, and I am grateful for fleshing him out for me - in a manner of speaking! Anatomical accuracy is so important and any artist worth his (or her) salt will strive to get it right, and the study of anatomy seems to be a logical prerequisite. I am reasonably familiar with the work of Edward Lear and one of the hallmarks of his great bird portraits was that they were so life like they almost burst off the page. No doubt Stubbs’ horses looked ready to canter! I will have to learn more about him. Thank you, Dear Hilary, Purveyor of Esoterica in my life! Hugs - David

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

He depicted animals much more realistically. (Studying the real thing - whoever heard of such a thing?) His skeleton drawings are still the most impressive.

bazza said...

Stubbs had one major prerequisite of a genuine artist: curiosity! His lack of conventional training was an asset as there were no fixed ideas to be obeyed or rules to be followed.

Annalisa Crawford said...

Such an impressive body of work.

Rita said...

Very interesting! Had not heard of him or seen any of his works. :)

Debbie D. said...

What an amazing and unique talent! I wasn't familiar with George Stubbs and appreciate the write-up. Combining anatomy with art reminds me of the 'Bodies' exhibit we saw in Las Vegas.

Anabel Marsh said...

Amazing artist! I didn’t know he was such an enigma though.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ John – well frankly I'm glad he didn't leave letters etc … I had plenty to write about … and explain how he was able to so accurately show all aspects of the horse body. He obviously had a marvellous brain – which was very relevant to his art. We're so lucky …

The anatomy came about in that century too – though had been drawn before … the Hunter brothers from Glasgow were the main doctor-scientists … and they enlisted Stubbs to engrave for them, also Dr Burton (the man-midwife of York) recognised Stubbs' skill at drawing - and organised that he produce drawings about human births for his book.

It was the time of division … and the church held sway … as you mention.

@ Hels – interesting … I mentioned the colonial aspect as a note – I don't want to go into the political aspects.

@ David – I have to say I've learnt a huge amount about life back then, and how, as Bazza mentions, he was so curious – and obviously 'besotted' with the horse as an animal. The book you probably should get if you'd like – is a very small one 'A Memoir of George Stubbs – by Ozias Humphry and Josephy Mayer' published by Pallas Athene in 2005 … I'll email you too. I hope you picked up my mention of Pauleen Bennett in Australia and her new field of science.

@ Alex – yes … everything he did was true to life – he spent a lot of time producing the horse engraving, which included lots of notes and explanations … even relevant to day. Yes – his skeleton drawings are just superb …

@ Bazza – you're so right … he was very curious – and he was determined not to follow convention – thankgoodness!!

@ Annalisa – yes a very impressive body of work – I loved having the privelege of seeing the exhibition.

@ Rita – well I'm glad I've tempted you to look further … he's wonderful!

@ Debbie – he was an amazing artist … doing his own thing – which we appreciate today, yet he understood the need to produce fashionable works as expected – hence the Infantry one …

Interesting about the Bodies exhibition in Las Vegas – I had a quick look … I presume the bodies exhibited had had proper contract!!

@ Anabel – I have to admit I hadn't realised he was such an enigma … it's been fun finding out, as it's been relatively easy – and thankfully I have three books that cover his life.

Thanks everyone – lovely to have your comments – cheers Hilary

L. Diane Wolfe said...

His horses are just gorgeous!

Karen Jones Gowen said...

The self portrait looks like a painting of George Washington astride his favorite horse. I could look at these animal paintings all day. He captures such beauty of form and movement.

Computer Tutor said...

Those are amazing. And he couldn't have picked a better animal to model.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Diane - they are so true to life, you're right ...

@ Karen - I included this portrait in my talk too - but hadn't thought about the Washington connection ... I'm very glad to have the books here to look at ... but loved the exhibition: a treat ...

@ Jacqui - he loved animals ... people not so much! No surprise there, perhaps ...

Cheers to you three - so pleased you enjoyed the post - Hilary

Joanne said...

Stubbs work always stands out. I never have to look at a tag to identify it. The colors are rich and, as per his studies, the detail and accuracy are perfect. He's like Da Vinci and his study of anatomy that made his art work special. It is fascinating to study those who transcend their time. Excellent post and I'm sure your talk was well received.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Joanne - yes Stubbs' work does stand out; it's been amazing learning about him for my talk ... I learnt a lot about the 1700s too. As you say studying those who transcend their time is very enlightening. Yes - it was ... I was lucky ... I'd almost like to do another ... as there are things I've subsequently picked up ... but perhaps another post - mind you I've made promises like that before ... and they're still on the drawing board waiting to be written. So many. Cheers and thanks for coming by - Hilary

Sandra Cox said...

Oh, I love his work. What beautiful horses. Thanks for sharing, Hils.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Thanks Sandra ... you're always so good at commenting ... cheers and huge thanks - Hilary

Keith's Ramblings said...

I knew of him and his works, but nothing about the man himself - until now! Thank you, Hilary.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Keith - pleasure ... it was worth the (easy) research I was able to check up on - and then draft up this post from the information I'd gleaned about Stubbs and his artistic prowess. Cheers Hilary