George Stubbs: ‘all done from Nature’

by Martin Postle

  • 11 October 2019

Among the most startling exhibits in the exhibition on George Stubbs, opening on 12 October at MK Gallery, is the skeleton of Eclipse, the swiftest and most celebrated racehorse of the eighteenth century. The skeleton, conserved especially for the exhibition, is displayed alongside over eighty paintings, drawings and publications, including twenty original drawings for The Anatomy of the Horse, belonging to the Royal Academy of Arts, and Stubbs’s iconic Whistlejacket, from the National Gallery.

As the exhibition reveals, throughout his career Stubbs produced an extraordinary range of images of animals, from thoroughbred racehorses and dogs to exotic leopards, rhinoceroses, monkeys, and tiny lemurs. He also depicted a broad spectrum of humans, from aristocratic patrons, and stable lads to nursing mothers and foetuses. Throughout, Stubbs scrutinised his subjects with an unwavering intensity. As an artist he demonstrated an independent and uncompromising stance towards his work, despite the lack of support from the Royal Academy, which refused to grant him the status of a full Academician. As an anatomist and anatomical illustrator, he was quite simply among the greatest practitioners of the age.

Installation shot of George Stubbs: 'all done from nature' at MK Gallery,

As well as the National Gallery, the Royal Academy and various private owners, lenders to the exhibition include the Royal Collection, Tate, the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow, Manchester Art Gallery, and the Yale Center for British Art, which has lent a series of superlative drawings from Stubbs’s treatise, A Comparative Anatomical Exposition of the Structure of the Human Body, with that of a Tiger and Common Fowl.

The exhibition is curated by Anthony Spira, Director of MK Gallery, with Martin Postle and Paul Bonaventura. The exhibition catalogue includes essays by Martin Postle, Jenny Uglow, Nicholas Clee, Martin Myrone, together with two poems by Roger Robinson and catalogue entries by Alison Wright.

George Stubbs: ‘all done from Nature’
MK Gallery, Milton Keynes, 12 October 2019–26 January 2020
Mauritshuis, The Hague, 20 February

About the author

  • Martin Postle - Senior Research Fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre