George Stubbs ARA (1724 - 1806)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

George Stubbs revolutionised the painting of horses and other animals with his rigorous investigations of their anatomy published in his book The Anatomy of the Horse.

Stubbs was born in Liverpool in 1724 the son of a currier and was largely self-taught as an artist. He briefly served as assistant to the painter Hamlet Winstanley but quickly rebelled against the discipline imposed by his master. As a teenager Stubbs was already dissecting small animals, and between 1745 and 1751 he continued his anatomical studies at York County Hospital. Through dissecting human cadavers he gained the knowledge required to (anonymously) etch the illustrations to a book on midwifery by Dr John Burton.

In 1754 Stubbs travelled to Rome and, following his return to England, he embarked on study of the anatomy of the horse. He spent about eighteen months dissecting and drawing horses in a farmhouse near Barton upon Humber in Lincolnshire. Stubbs moved to London around 1759, where he etched the plates for Anatomy of the Horse (published 1766) himself while simultaneously inundated with commissions for paintings. He only made a small number of original prints but was nonetheless one of the most original of British printmakers, and brought the same originality to his later experiments with painting in enamel.

Early commissions were paintings of single horses such as Whistlejacket, sometimes with alongside their jockeys or owners. Stubbs also specialised in paintings of other wild animals: the ‘lion and horse’ theme, in particular, being one he often returned to, while he also painted tigers, cheetahs, and other newly imported animals such as the first zebra seen in England (1762). In the 1770s he began painting dogs as well.

Stubbs exhibited with the Society of Artists between 1761 and 1774, before switching allegiances to the Royal Academy, where he exhibited between 1775 and 1803. Stubbs never became a full Academician, however he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1780 and a full RA in 1781 but the latter was annulled after he refused to submit a Diploma Work to the Academy.

Stubbs died in 1806 while working on his last project, A comparative anatomical exposition of the structure of the human body with that of a tiger and a common fowl.

RA Collections Decolonial Research Project - Extended Biography Stubbs had a long relationship with Mary Spencer, who was also his assistant, from at least the mid-1740s. She was described by a contemporary as the daughter of ‘Captain Spencer of the Guinea trade’, implying that her father was linked to colonial trading.

Following the death of his father in 1741, Stubbs had also inherited a few houses in Liverpool, a major port city for colonial trade and the transatlantic slave trade.

Stubbs made drawings and paintings of several animal species brought to England through colonial trade channels, for example the Indian nylghau and Canadian moose.

Relevant ODNB entries Egerton, Judy. “Stubbs, George (1724–1806), painter, engraver, and anatomist.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004; Accessed 1 Jul. 2022.


Royal Academician

Born: 25 August 1724 in Liverpool, Merseyside, England, United Kingdom

Died: 10 July 1806

Nationality: British

Elected ARA: 6 November 1780

Declined: 13 Feb 1781

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Painting, Printmaking, and Etching

Works by George Stubbs in the RA Collection

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Works after George Stubbs in the RA Collection

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Works associated with George Stubbs in the RA Collection

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Associated books

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Associated archives

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