Stubbs and the Wild, The Holburne Museum, Great Pulteney Street Bath, until 2nd October 2016
The Holburne is fortunate enough to have its own painting by George Stubbs (1724-1806) a landscape portrait of the The Rev. Robert Carter Thelwall and his Family who are depicted with their horses. This painting serves as the introduction to the exhibition which focuses on Stubbs as painter of animals.
Through drawings, paintings and prints it takes us into the wild side of Stubbs and eloquently reminds us of his genius. Even as a young man in Liverpool he was interested in dissecting animals to discover their inner workings. It was only when he went to York that he studied and taught anatomy, including human bodies for a short while. In 1754 he moved to an isolated farm in North Lincolnshire and spend some eighteen months dissecting horses and revealing their inner secrets layer by layer. It was at this juncture that he decided to give up painting portraits and to focus on horses and other animals, such as the new ones that were being brought in from the colonies. I would suggest that it really was a true vocation for Stubbs.
While the pictures were often meant to be scientific studies of the creatures, Stubbs imbues them with a portrait-like quality but in some works he also depicts the natural behaviour of the animals, especially in the studies of horse and lions. I had always rather shied away from this as a subject but found myself so drawn in by the artist’s skill that I have to say he rather converted me. I was also fascinated by the exquisite works he executed on large ceramic plaques – no mean feat at that time.
I certainly look forward to re-visiting the exhibition and have no hesitation in urging you to go and visit this exhilarating show which as its curator Amina Wright suggests presents “the artist as an indefatigable explorer of the natural world and a bold technical innovator. It will also introduce some of the animal celebrities of eighteenth-century England, from the sweet and fluffy to the majestically terrifying.”
What more can one want!