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George Stubbs (1724-1806): A Celebration in New York
George Stubbs (1724–1806), Haymakers, 1785, Oil on panel, 89 ½ x 135 ½ cm (35 x 53 in.), Tate, London. Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery, The Art Fund, the Pilgrim Trust, and subscribers 1977.

NEW YORK.- The Frick Collection presents the first museum exhibition of paintings by George Stubbs ever to be held in New York City, marking the bicentenary of this British artist widely esteemed for his depictions of animals and scenes of country life in late eighteenth-century England. The Frick is the exclusive North American venue for the show, which opened to acclaim in 2006 at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, the artist’s birthplace, before moving in the autumn to Tate Britain, London, the city where Stubbs lived and achieved his greatest success. While Stubbs’s work is represented in many American collections, the exhibition at the Frick draws on British-owned examples, many of which have not crossed the Atlantic Ocean in more than twenty years, presenting an important viewing opportunity. The seventeen pictures include almost the full range of Stubbs’s subjects, and the exhibition’s intimate scale emphasizes his gifts as a painter whose acute powers of observation, gracefully choreographed compositions, brilliant palette, and meticulous technique transform subjects, no matter how mundane or exotic, into timeless statements celebrating the relationship between nature and art. Major local funding for George Stubbs (1724–1806): A Celebration has been provided by The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation. Corporate support has been provided by Fiduciary Trust Company International. Generous funding has also been provided by Francis Finlay, Melvin R. Seiden in honor of Colin B. Bailey, and by the Fellows of The Frick Collection. The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities.

Presentation of George Stubbs (1724–1806): A Celebration in New York is coordinated by the Frick’s Chief Curator Colin B. Bailey and Associate Curator Denise Allen. Comments Allen: “Stubbs’s spare compositions and meticulous technique elegantly simplify the natural world and one can enjoy his work with the pleasure given over to a sunny day. But his paintings, no matter how apparently straightforward, are as complex and multilayered as the diverse studies that Stubbs put into preparing for them. Stubbs has come down to us as a silent personality, and this is fine, for each of his great paintings, and all of those on view at the Frick, reveal the range, depth, and humane genius of the artist who created them.”

As a child, Stubbs surprised his father, a prosperous Liverpool currier, by announcing his intention to become a painter. Stubbs apprenticed briefly with a local master, but soon departed from that traditional path. He schooled himself in art by studying anatomy and practicing dissection; by the age of twenty-one, he was teaching anatomy in York. Talent, independence, diligence, and a keen eye for opportunity characterized Stubbs’s approach. He belonged to the last generation of great British painters who came to maturity before the foundation of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768, and he was the only one to exploit so creatively the freedoms afforded by the absence of a rigid institutional system. An ambitious young man, he was undaunted by custom and broke off a sojourn in Rome because traditional study of the ancients and Old Masters did not teach him what he wanted to know.

He returned to Liverpool in 1755 and spent eighteen grueling months dissecting horses in preparation for his publication of The Anatomy of the Horse (1766). In this unprecedented work—the most accurate compendium of equine anatomy up to that time—drawing after nature was both a means of scientific inquiry and an artistic enterprise. Stubbs’s portraits of thoroughbreds, such as Molly Longlegs, whose vivid animation is startling, reveal how long years of studying the physical structure of the horse and days spent drawing the living subject prepared Stubbs to bring his portrayals to life in paint. Stubbs’s immaculate brushwork captures the gleam of Molly’s contoured muscles, the polished texture of her coat, and the liquid spark of her rolling eye. She appears monumental against the expansive landscape, yet also vulnerable: a nervous, powerful creature stilled by intelligent trust in her jockey’s steady hand. Such paintings seduce us into focused, pleasurable looking; we are engaged by their harmonious compositions and pristine details as much as by the generous humanity with which Stubbs presents his subjects.

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