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Palace House displays rarely seen anatomical drawings by George Stubbs
Monkey Standing, Anterior View. © Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

NEW MARKET.- The National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art is displaying a set of unique drawings by Britain’s most renowned animal painter, George Stubbs (1724-1806).

The ten works, on loan from the Yale Center for British Art, have not been seen in the UK for many years. The drawings form the core of an exhibition that illuminates aspects of Stubbs’s life and interest which have previously been underexplored and highlight the exceptional nature of his painting and drawing techniques.

Stubbs was one of the most original and pioneering artists of the 18th century. His prowess as a painter of horses is well known, but his later study of the anatomy of a wide variety of animals to compare with the human figure is less widely documented.

His great reputation as an extraordinary painter of horses was forged in a remote Lincolnshire farmhouse. In his early thirties, Stubbs relocated from York to Horkstow, near Hull and spent the next 18-months (1756-58), unflinchingly and painstakingly dissecting up to a dozen horses, documenting their musculature, veins and skeletons. The sheer effort it took to suspend the horses by a system of hooks, ropes and planks attached to the farmhouse’s ceiling and then injecting their veins with wax in order to preserve them can only be imagined.

The result was his celebrated book, The Anatomy of the Horse – a copy of which (from the Palace House collection) is on display in the exhibition.

Following The Anatomy of the Horse, Stubbs moved to London, where he continued his interest in dissection and anatomy, alongside his increasingly successful career as a painter. He was 71-years old when he started working on Comparative Anatomical Exposition, a study reflecting ideas about fundamental structural characteristics shared by all living things.

Stubbs didn’t seek to make direct comparisons between species, as the title might suggest, but to apply empirical methods of observation and draftsmanship among dissimilar creatures - fowl, tiger and man - to analyse a core set of similarities from which to make key conclusions.

Just as his huge undertaking at Horkstow, this was another highly ambitious project, with the aim of a major publication with sixty plates. Stubbs sadly did not complete this as he died in 1806.

Acquired by the sporting art enthusiast, Paul Mellon, the completed Comparative Anatomical Exposition drawings underpin Mellon’s collecting habits and his deep passion for this subject. The display of comparative anatomy drawings joins numerous works at the National Heritage Centre which were donated by him to the National Horseracing Museum and British Sporting Art Trust collections.

Other works from the Yale Center for British Art that featured in the exhibition include an oil on copper Self-portrait at the age of about 32-36 (c. 1756-9).

Announcing the exhibition, Chris Garibaldi, Director of Palace House, The National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art says: “The 18th century not only experienced the Enlightenment but was also the golden age of British horse racing. So, it is highly appropriate that we should celebrate Stubbs immense gifts as an artist and man of science here, in the home of British horse racing, Newmarket.”

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