George Stubbs, 1724–1806, British, Human Figure, Anterior View, Undissected (Finished Study for Table VI), 1795 to 1806
Human Figure, Anterior View, Undissected (Finished Study for Table VI)
- Additional Title(s):
Human Figure, Anterior View, Undissected
- Part Of:
- 1795 to 1806
- Graphite on moderately thick, slightly textured, cream wove paper
- Sheet: 21 1/4 x 16 inches (54 x 40.6 cm)
- Credit Line:
- Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
- Copyright Status:
- Public Domain
- Accession Number:
- Drawings & Watercolors
- Prints and Drawings
- Subject Terms:
- anatomical study | anatomy | body | face | figure study | front | man
- Accessible by request in the Study Room [Request]
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Although George Stubbs is celebrated primarily as a painter of animals, particularly horses, he was also an accomplished anatomist; indeed his exhaustive anatomical studies played a crucial role in the creation of his paintings. Stubbs's interest in anatomy was by no means innovative - the concept of the "artists-anatomist" was well established in the Renaissance period, with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci as its prime exponents - but he showed extraordinary dedication to the subject, and his work was highly praised by his scientific contemporaries. According to his earliest biographer Ozias Humphry, Stubbs demonstrated a precocious interest in anatomy, beginning his studies at the age of eight with the help of a Dr. Holt, who supplied him with bones to draw. After Stubbs moved to York to work as a portrait painter in 1745, he spent much of his time dissecting corpses at the hospital under the guidance of the surgeon Charles Atkinson, and he provided illustrations for John Burton's pioneering study of obstetrics, Essay Towards a Complete new System of Midwifery (1751). In 1756 Stubbs embarked on a study of equine anatomy, spending sixteen months in a remote farmhouse in Lincolnshire dissecting and drawing the flayed carcasses of horses with the assistance of his common-law wife Mary Spencer. Stubbs intended to have his drawings engraved and published, but his attempts to find a professional engraver were unsuccessful. When The Anatomy of the Horse was eventually published in 1766, it was acclaimed by members of the scientific community, including Petrus Camper, the celebrated Dutch anatomist. Camper suggested that Stubbs might pursue his studies in equine anatomy further, but Stubbs replied, "What you have seen is all I meant to do, it being as much as I thought necessary for the study of Painting…I looked very little into the internal parts of a Horse, my search there being only a matter of curiosity." Stubbs's interest in anatomy was clearly more than merely utilitarian, however, as his highly sophisticated studies indicate, and in 1796, at the age of seventy-one, the artist embarked on his most ambitious anatomical investigation, a comparative anatomy of the human being, the tiger, and the common fowl. This choice of subject may sound eccentric today, but it reflected contemporary scientific theories regarding the shared structure of all living creatures, and Stubbs may have been encouraged by the celebrated anatomists William and John Hunter, who had both commissioned him to produce paintings of exotic animals. Stubbs intended to publish the Comparative Anatomical Exposition as sixty engraved plates with explanatory letter press in English and French editions, but only half of the plates had been published by the time of his death in 1806, although he had completed the preliminary drawings and had written four volumes of accompanying text. The project clearly had great personal significance for Stubbs: Mary Spencer recollected that on his death-bed, he lamented that "I had indeed hoped to have finished my Comparative Anatomy eer I went, for other things I have no anxiety." The studies and four manuscript volumes had a complex history prior to their acquisition by the Center. They were not included in Stubbs's posthumous studio sale but remained with Mary Spencer until her death in 1817, when they were sold. The drawings were mounted on paperboard either by Edward Orme, who published an edition of the completed plates in 1817, or by a subsequent owner, Thomas Bell; they were eventually acquired by John Green of Worcester, Massachusetts, who gave them in 1863 to the Worcester Public Library, where they languished forgotten until they were discovered in the course of a cataloguing project in 1957. In 1980 Paul Mellon purchased the drawings with the manuscript volumes for the Center, where they were restored to their earlier condition through an extensive program of conservation work.
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