George Stubbs - The man, the horse, the obsession
25 Feb 2020
The Mauritshuis presents an exhibition about England’s most celebrated horse painter: George Stubbs (1724-1806). This artist established his reputation with exceptional compositions of horses, which he painted in an lifelike fashion that was unprecedented. An in-depth study of the horse’s anatomy, for which the artist dissected the animals himself, laid the foundations for his success. The exhibition George Stubbs – The man, the horse, the obsession brings together 13 paintings, 10 anatomical drawings and the skeleton of the most famous racehorse of all time. This is the first time that this masterpiece from The National Gallery in London has travelled to mainland Europe.
The exhibition focuses on a significant period in Stubbs’ career: the 1750s and 1760s. During this period, Stubbs quickly developed to become the leading horse painter in his country. His clients belonged to England’s elite – they owned large country houses with art collections, estates with stables and sometimes even stud farms. Equestrian sports were and continue to be a favourite pastime in England, a way of life even, and with his specialism, Stubbs had found a perfect niche in the art market. A special feature of Stubbs’ pictures is that he painted true portraits of horses (rather than paintings with horses in them), which were instantly recognisable to their owners. He knew like no other how to capture both the physical attributes of a horse and its character, with a great respect for the bond between humans and animals. A magnificent example of this is the portrait of the high-spirited stallion Blank, being held by his groom ‘Old Parnam’.
For Stubbs, the careful study of nature lay at the heart of his artistic endeavours. His unusual scientific approach made him a true artist of the Enlightenment. In 1766 Stubbs published The Anatomy of the Horse, a pioneering book with detailed illustrations that brought the artist international acclaim: it became the standard work on equine anatomy. Examples of this book are on view in the exhibition, alongside rare anatomical drawings made by Stubbs.
The life-sized portrait of Whistlejacket is also on view in the exhibition. On account of its size, the perfect rendering of the horse’s body and the intriguing empty background, the painting is the best-loved work in Stubbs’ oeuvre. Whistlejacket was a racehorse belonging to one of Stubbs’ most important and wealthy clients: the prominent politician Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham.
18th-century Dutch painting is a lesser-known, yet important part of the permanent collection and display at the Mauritshuis. With this exhibition, the museum is introducing the work of one of the most important 18th-century English artists to the Dutch public.
The exhibition is being jointly organised with the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes (United Kingdom), where the exhibition George Stubbs: ‘all done from Nature’ was on view from 11 October 2019 until 26 January 2020. That exhibition provided an overview of Stubbs’ entire oeuvre, while the Mauritshuis is focusing on Stubbs at the peak of his career.