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George Stubbs, 1724–1806, British

Study for the Self-portrait in Enamel

ca. 1781
Graphite on medium, smooth, cream wove paper; squared in graphite for transfer
Sheet: 12 x 9 1/8 inches (30.5 x 23.2 cm)

Scipio, verso, upper left

Signed in graphite, in the design area on palette: "George Stubbs"

Inscribed in a later hand in pen and brown ink, verso, lower center: "This is the portrait of George Stubbs | the Animal Painter | and his name is to be seen | on the palette. | 5 July 1842; inscribed in a later hand in pen and brown ink, verso, lower left: Capital drawing | by whom?"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
artist | brush | figure study | man | palette | portrait | self-portrait | study (visual work)
Associated People:
Stubbs, George (1724–1806), painter, engraver, and anatomist
Accessible by request in the Study Room [Request]
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This highly finished drawing is a preparatory study, squared up for transfer, for the self-portrait that Stubbs executed in 1781 on a Wedgwood oval plaque (National Portrait Gallery, London), probably for Mrs. Thorold, the wife of his good friend John Thorold of the Inner Temple—so said Ozias Humphry, who remains one of the very few, and far from wholly reliable, sources of biographical information about Stubbs. Although it was for many years identified as a portrait not of Stubbs but of Wedgwood, the final version of the plaque was correctly identified by Basil Taylor in 1965. It conforms to what we know about other preparatory drawings for Stubbs’s Wedgwood plaques. The technique of generating a composition for firing in enamel seems to have required a high degree of artistic decision-making in advance and a good deal of finish even prior to beginning work on the earthenware support. A number of Stubbs’s other squared-up drawings were recorded in the artist’s posthumous 1807 studio sale, but relatively few have been traced.

To commemorate the centenary of the birth of the late Paul Mellon, the Yale Center for British Art recently purchased at auction in London one of a small group of other self-portraits by Stubbs: an exquisite, small oval painting of head and shoulders in oil on copper. This much earlier work serves as a valuable reminder that the oval format, and within it the three-quarter attitude facing the right, were firmly established both in the artist’s view of himself and in the mind-set of other artists, including Ozias Humphry and William Craft, who both portrayed Stubbs in almost identical formats.

Angus Trumble

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, cat. no. 27, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

A loan exhibition of English drawings and watercolours from the collection of Mr and Mrs Paul Mellon of Upperville, Virginia, P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London, 1964, cat. no. 6, N5247.M385 L62 (YCBA)

Cassandra Albinson, New Acquisitions, Apollo, v. 165, no. 542, April, 2007, pp. 40-41, fig. 3, N1 A54 + (YCBA)

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, pp. 253-54, no. 27, pl. 27, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Michael Jaffe, Stubbs, a self portrait , Burlington Magazine, vol. 127, no. 983, February, 1985, p. 85, N1 B87 + OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Lowell Libson Ltd : British Art : 2016, Lowell Libson Ltd., 2016, p. 24, 25, Dealer Cat Lowell Libson 2016 (YCBA)

Painting in England 1700-1850, collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon. , Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, 1963, v. 1: p.174, no. 332, ND466 V57 v.1-2 (YCBA)

Basil Taylor, Stubbs, Phaidon, London, 1975, frontpiece, NJ18 St915 T39 1975 (YCBA) +

Yale University Art Gallery, English drawings and watercolors, from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, April 15 - June 20, 1965 , New Haven, 1965, cat. no. 6, NC228 Y34 (YCBA)

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