Tuesday 25 August 2020

'Having renewed his conviction he immediately resolved upon returning home...'

George Stubbs, the greatest painter of horses who ever lived, was born on this day in 1724. Largely self-trained, he learnt the anatomy of the horse the hard way – by long, painstaking dissection of dead horses, in conditions that most men would have found wholly unbearable. But he persevered, published his massive Anatomy of the Horse, and soon found a ready market for horse paintings among an English aristocracy well known for feeling more warmly about horseflesh than humans.
  Stubbs's plunge into equine anatomy followed a visit to Italy, which (he later told Ozias Humphry) he undertook 'to convince himself that nature was and is always superior to art, whether Greek or Roman, and having renewed his conviction he immediately resolved upon returning home'. The greatest of his horse paintings is the stupendous Whistlejacket in the National Gallery, which has to be seen at full scale. But Stubbs was not only a horse painter, and Tate Britain has a lovely pair of pastoral landscapes, Haymakers and Reapers, on display, adorned with a gloriously obtuse caption, about which I've written before. Perhaps this has now been updated to lament the absence of any black haymakers or reapers and speculate about the very probably slave-owning squire...

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