George Stubbs at Upton House

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Who was George Stubbs?

Born in Liverpool in 1742 where he grew up. George Stubbs had no regular training in painting and was almost entirely self-taught. When he was just 21 he travelled to Italy in search of inspiration for his art. After a successful trip he returned home, to begin a rigorous artistic study of the horse, from which he published The Anatomy of the Horse in 1766. From this, Stubbs became forever associated with his famous horse paintings.

The paintings at Upton

Here at Upton we have some of his more unusual paintings. The Haymaker, the Labourers and the Reapers are country scenes.

How Stubbs worked

One documented account of how Stubbs' worked was by a painter friend Ozias Humphry. He penned the earliest account of Stubbs’s life, in which he recorded how the commission from Lord Torrington for the Labourers came about:

‘At Southill, the seat of Lord Viscount Torrington, he painted the celebrated picture of the Labourers or Bricklayers, loading bricks into a Cart…during dinner the old men were ordered to prepare themselves for their labours with a little cart drawn by Lord Torrington’s favourite old hunter which was used only for these easy tasks – for this being the first horse his lordship ever rode was the principal motive for ordering this picture’.

His sketches

According to the account above, Stubbs had trouble with the arrangement of the painting, until the men began to argue about how to fit the tailgate to the cart.  Having made a quick sketch, Stubbs then moved the men, cart and horse to a nearby barn where they were kept until the picture was complete. This account is important because none of Stubbs' sketches remain today.

The Haymakers:  What's going on in the painting?

A landscape with a group of haymakers at work in the late afternoon. Two women stand by a haywain, one holding a rake, the other turning over hay, a man forks it up to his companion, who reaches over to lift it on to the loaded cart, to which a pair of horses are harnessed to and a view over an extensive landscape.

Like many other paintings by Stubbs, the three at Upton are badly abraded. This could be due to the fact that Stubbs was using enamel colours and not oil paint. It would explain the damage that might have resulted through cleaning to much of his later work.

See these painting in the Dining Room at Upton House when you visit, or ask about our art tours when you arrive.