George Stubbs, Painter: Catalogue raisonné by Judy Egerton - review by Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson

Painter of All Nature

George Stubbs, Painter: Catalogue raisonné


Yale University Press 700pp £95

In this beautiful and fascinating volume about George Stubbs (part of the admirable series Yale is publishing that lists, describes and illustrates all the surviving works of leading painters) Judy Egerton has taken great trouble to find out and describe exactly how this most unusual and original artist worked.

George Stubbs (1724–1806) was the son of a Liverpool currier and almost entirely self-taught. He must have been a man of great mental power and self-confidence. He approached nature, and everything in it, with admiration and reverence, and in his determination to reproduce it in two dimensions he had no preconceptions but devised his own way of doing things. He was solitary, uncollegiate and sui generis. Although chiefly thought of as a painter of horses and dogs, he was interested in all living creatures and vegetation, and painted portraits, genre pictures and landscape backgrounds with as much close observation and accuracy as he rendered the thoroughbred horses which gave him his living and fame.

In order to paint the surface of his subjects, he developed a passionate curiosity about what went on beneath the skin. He gradually accumulated an encyclopaedic knowledge of muscles and how they functioned. He began at York hospital, where he studied how children grew in the womb and were born.

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