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George Stubbs, 1724–1806, British

Human Figure, Anterior View (Finished Study of Final Stage of Dissection)

Additional Title(s):

Human Figure, Anterior View, Final Stage of Dissection

Part Of:

Collective Title: A Comparative Anatomical Exposition of the Structure of the Human Body with that of a Tiger and a Common Fowl

1795 to 1806
Graphite on moderately thick, slightly textured, cream wove paper
Sheet: 21 1/4 x 15 7/8 inches (54 x 40.3 cm)

Inscribed in graphite, upper left: "[...]per No. 3"; in graphite, verso, upper left, encircled: "7"

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 | figure study | front | man | skeleton
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Much of what we know about the watersheds in the life of George Stubbs relates to his mostly systematic study of anatomy, beginning at the age of eight—according to Ozias Humphry—when a Dr. Holt set him the task of drawing bones. Evidently Stubbs proceeded to the study of anatomical dissection in York and was good at it. Dissections for Dr. John Burton’s “Essay Towards a Complete New System of Midwifery” (1751) were carried out in York on deceased pregnant women and fetuses, one of which was “conceal’d in a Garret,” apparently not obtained as a result of execution and therefore illegal. These incidents were evidently sufficient grounds upon which to refer in writing to Stubbs as an artist “of vile renown.” The work of dissecting horses that Stubbs undertook with the assistance of the long-suffering Mary Spencer in an isolated farmhouse in Lincolnshire led to the production of a series of spectacular finished drawings that a little later, in London, provided prospective horse-mad patrons with a highly effective demonstration of his talents as a draftsman. Stubbs taught himself how to engrave plates after his own finished drawings, from which were printed deluxe copies of the magnum opus of the middle part of his career, “The Anatomy of the Horse” (1766). The book was a tremendous success. Stubbs hoped that it would not only be useful to artists but also contribute to the advancement of scientific knowledge (with its nearly fifty thousand words of detailed anatomical text). Presumably it was Stubbs’s work in anatomy that brought him into contact with John Hunter, upon whom his more socially elevated brother, William Hunter, the surgeon and accoucheur to the queen, relied for the procurement of corpses. Stubbs’s work in anatomy was potentially dangerous, and in any case hair-raising. Begun when Stubbs was seventy-one years old, the “Comparative Anatomical Exposition” reflected ideas about certain fundamental structural characteristics that were thought to be shared by all living things. The point of the exercise was not to compare like with like but, by applying empirical techniques of observation and analysis, to discover among radically dissimilar creatures—in this case man, fowl, and tiger (see B1981.1.5 and B1981.1.9)—the reassuring bedrock of fundamental similarities. The project was enormously ambitious: Stubbs projected sixty elaborately engraved plates with accompanying explanatory letterpress in both English and French editions—a valuable reminder that to some extent Stubbs’s reputation as a man of science flourished not just in England but abroad as well. Although he managed to complete all the preparatory drawings, barely half of the plates were engraved and published by the time Stubbs died in 1806.

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 254, no. 28, pl. 28, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

George Stubbs, George Stubbs : 'All Done from Nature', London, p. 195, cat. 47.2, NJ18.St915 A12 2019 (LC) Oversize

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