George Stubbs has been much on our mind recently. Lowell and Jonny travelled to New Haven in May for the re-opening of the Yale Center for British Art. The building has been intelligently and sensitively restored, with several of Louis Khan’s original ideas being reinstated, most impressively the study gallery. The real joy is the re-installation, entitled ‘Britain in the World’, this highly intelligent, thought provoking and beautiful hang shows the breadth and depth of the YCBA’s extensive holdings. Arranged chronologically and thematically, the new hang wraps around the fourth and second floors, leading the visitor through the history of British art. But rather than an isolated, narrow view, as the title of the rehang suggests, the display constantly gives British art a global context. There are some marvellous moments: a constellation of plein air studies places Constable in the company of his contemporary Richard Parkes Bonnington, friend William Mulready, and Edwin Landseer; a pair of mythological paintings by James Ward flank a Haydon and look on at a sculpture by Gibson, giving a rounded look at the second generation of neo-classical painters and Palmer hangs next to his father-in-law, John Linnell. But perhaps the greatest success is the juxtaposition of works by George Stubbs and Joseph Wright of Derby, whose paintings fill one of Khan’s bays. These two titans of mid-eighteenth century Britain who seem to encapsulate the contemporary concerns of science, industry and art and whose paintings bridge the ideas of neo-classicism, romanticism and the sublime, work well together.
Two years ago the Holburne Museum in Bath mounted an exhibition on Joseph Wright of Derby (‘Wright of Derby: Bath and Beyond’) which we supported, and they have recently opened an exhibition examining Stubbs’s depictions of wild animals called: Stubbs and the Wild which we are also supporting. The show is small, but highly intelligent and beautifully presented, offering a valuable opportunity to consider Stubbs’s powerful depictions of animals. Stubbs’s paintings range from the purely scientific – records of specimens owned by men of science, such as John Hunter and Sir Joseph Banks – to the exotic trophy and ultimately the sublime landscape, those history paintings were Stubbs revels in the violence of nature. The range of Stubbs’s abilities are amply demonstrated. The show includes wonderfully observed drawings, such as the studies of Marmaduke Tunstall’s Mouse Lemur made in 1773 for Banks, large historical works such as a Horse Frightened by a Lion, experimental works in enamel on porcelain, made in conjunction with Josiah Wedgwood and drawings from his own scientific publication, the Comparative Anatomical Exposition. Each of these elements testify to a restless, innovative artist working at the cutting edge of technological and scientific discovery.
Stubbs and the Wild
The Holburne Museum
25 June – 2 October 2016