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George Stubbs, 1724–1806

A Lion Attacking a Horse

Former Title(s):

Horse Attacked by a Lion

Lion devouring a horse

Lion Attacking a Horse

Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
96 × 131 inches (243.8 × 332.7 cm), Frame: 115 5/8 × 142 1/4 inches (293.7 × 361.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
animal art | biting | blood (animal material) | hills | horse (animal) | landscape | lion | rocks (landforms) | shore (landform) | trees
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

From the early 1760s to the 1790s, George Stubbs returned again and again to the theme of horses stalked and attacked by lions. In his hands, the encounter took on the high drama of a scene from classical mythology, suggesting the struggle of civilization against barbarism. This painting is one of Stubbs’s earliest (and largest) explorations of this subject. It was commissioned by the young Charles Watson-Wentworth, second Marquess of Rockingham, for his London residence at 4 Grosvenor Square. Rockingham was a major figure in the worlds of horse racing and Whig politics and also commissioned the pendant painting of a lion attacking a stag, which Stubbs painted a few years later (shown nearby). Both paintings retain their original frames.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

George Stubbs’s scene of a lion attacking a horse can be read as an allegory of highly charged human interactions. This is the first of sixteen paintings by the artist, including the Yale University Art Gallery’s version, to represent this theme. Stubbs often painted domestic animals, but in expanding his practice in 1762 to depict wild animals, he became a leader in “sublime” themes in art. According to the contemporary philosopher Edmund Burke, the beautiful was calming, but the sublime—which was defined as a terrifying or disturbing event, contemplated from a safe distance or within the controlled confines of art—inspired the more potent emotion of excitement stoked by terror. The sublime, Burke argued, “comes upon us in the gloomy forest, and in the howling wilderness, in the form of the lion, the tiger, the panther, or the rhinoceros.” Stubbs’s confrontations between wild animals inspired later Romantic artists such as Eugène Delacroix and Théodore Géricault to depict similar scenes.

Gallery label for the Critique of Reason: Romantic Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2015-03-06 - 2015-07-26)

From the early 1760s to the 1790s, Stubbs returned again and again to the theme of horses stalked and attacked by lions. In his hands the encounter takes on the high, elemental drama of a scene from myth, suggesting the struggle of good against savagery. The simple, relief-like design brings this out in oppositions of form and tone: placed right above the graceful hind leg of the horse, for instance, the lion’s leg reads like a dark, demonic mockery. This is one of Stubbs’s earliest, and certainly his largest essay in the lion-and-horse type of subject. It was commissioned by the young Charles Watson Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, a major figure in the worlds of horseracing and Whig politics, for his London residence at 4 Grosvenor Square. Rockingham also commissioned the pendant painting of a lion attacking a stag, which Stubbs painted a few years later.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2005
It can safely be assumed from Lord Rockingham's keen interest in sculpture both antique and modern that he would have become familiar with the antique marble Lion and Horse group during his stay in Rome in 1750. It seems likely that his commission to Stubbs to paint this very large Lion Attacking a Horse was prompted by Stubbs disclosing his own deep interest in the Lion and Horse group while he was executing his first commissions for Rockingham, paid for in August 1762. At all events, Rockingham appears to have had complete confidence in Stubbs's ability to conceive - and to paint, on a huge scale, the drama in which the agonised but still resistant horse fights for its life, before being forced to the ground (as in the antique group).
Lion attacking a Horse was painted in London, where it was to hand on Rockinghma's house in Grosvernor Square. It was probably completed during the second half of 1762, and was paid for on 30 December 1762: Stubbs's receipt for 'Eighty guineas for one picture of a Horse [sic] Lion and one of a Horse Large as Life's survives; (the second picture is probably Whistlejacket, No.34). A few years later (? In 1765), Stubbs painted an equally large Lion attacking a Stag (No. 111), as a pendant to Rockingham's Lion attacking a Horse. Together, the two pictures now dominate the Central Court of the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven.
The landscape background in this version of Lion attackinga Horse, with its palm trees mingled with stunted oaks growing on a rocky shore,w as presumably conceived as the lion's natural habitat, but can only have been concocted in the studio. Stubbs had evidently not yet explored the peaks, cliffs and caves of Creswell Crags, on the Nottighamshire-Derbyshire border, which were to provide him with more naturally awesome backgrounds for this and manyother wild animal subjects.

Judy Egerton

Judy Egerton, George Stubbs, painter, catalogue raisonne, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn., London, 2007, pp. 174-6, no. 36, NJ18 St915 A12 E44 2007 + (YCBA)

The Critique of Reason : Romantic Art, 1760–1860 (Yale University Art Gallery, 2015-03-06 - 2015-07-26) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

George Stubbs in the Collection of Paul Mellon: a Memorial Exhibition (Yale Center for British Art, 1999-04-30 - 1999-09-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Stubbs - An Exhibition in Honor of Paul Mellon (National Gallery of Art, 1985-04-11 - 1985-05-04) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

George Stubbs (1724-1806) Tate Gallery (Yale Center for British Art, 1985-02-13 - 1985-04-07) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

George Stubbs (1724-1806) Tate Gallery (Tate Britain, 1984-10-17 - 1985-01-06) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Painting in England 1700-1850 - From The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon (Yale University Art Gallery, 1965-04-15 - 1965-06-20) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

A Great Collection of British Pictures in Virginia, The Times (London), , May 1, 1963, pp. 5, 22, Times Digital Archive [ORBIS]

Sir Geoffrey Agnew, Yale's 1700 Mellon Pictures, The Times (London), , April 28, 1977, p. 9, Times Digital Archive [ORBIS]

Art : The Definitive Visual History, DK Publishing, New York, 2018, pp. 266, 275, NX440 .A785 2018 Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Robin Blake, George Stubbs and the wide creation, animals, people and places in the life of George Stubbs, 1724-1806 , Chatto & Windus, London : Chatto & Windus, 2005, 2005, p. 151-52, 178, pl. 18, NJ18.St915 B53 2005 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Phillis Pray Bober, Renaissance artists & antique sculpture, a handbook of sources , Oxford University Press, London, England Oxford, 1986, p. 219, NB85 B63 1986 (YCBA) [YCBA]

British Art at Yale, Apollo, v.105, April 1977, p. 287, N1 .A54 + OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Christie's sale catalogue : Catalogue of pictures by old masters and historical portraits : 11 June 1948, Christie's, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, June 11, 1948, p. 7, Lot 57, Fiche B51 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Completing the picture, materials and techniques of twenty-six paintings in the Tate Gallery. , Tate Publishing, London, 1982, pp. 26-9, ND1471 T37 (YCBA) [YCBA]

H. F. Constantine, Lord Rockingham and Stubbs: Some New Documents, Burlington Magazine, Vol. 95, No. 604, July 1953, p. 237, N1 B87+ (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Cormack, A Selective Promenade, Apollo, v.105, April 1977, p. 287, N1 A54 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Cormack, Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 216-217, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Cormack, Country pursuits: British, American, and French sporting art from the Mellon collections in the Virginia Museum Of Fine Arts, , Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Charlottesville, 2007, pp. 15,18,19, figs.18,20,55,85, ND1383 G7 V57 2007 + OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Cormack, George Stubbs in the collection of Paul Mellon : A memorial exhibition, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1999, pp. 24, 33, no. 15, NJ18 St915 G54 1999 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Frederick J. Cummings, Catalogue of the exhibition : Romantic art in Britain : Painting and drawings, 1760-1860, Detroit and Philadelphia, 1968, pp. 51-53, N6766 C8 + oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Stephen Deuchar, Noble exercise : the sporting ideal in eighteenth-century British art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1982, p. 31, ND1388 G7 D48+ (YCBA) [YCBA]

Stephen Deuchar, Sporting art in eighteenth-century England, a social and political history , Yale University Press, New Haven, 1988, p. 151, N8250 D48 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Diana Donald, Picturing animals in Britain, 1750-1850, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007, pp. 70-3, 163, pl. 61, N7660 D67 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Judy Egerton, British Sporting and Animal Paintings 1655-1867 : A Catalogue : The Paul Mellon Collection, , Tate Publishing, London, 1978, pp. 71-2, no. 69, pl. 26, ND1383 G7 B75 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Judy Egerton, George Stubbs and the Landscape of Creswell Crags, Burlington Magazine, vol. 126,no.981, December 1984, p. 743, N1 B87 + (YCBA) Available online in JSTOR. [YCBA]

Judy Egerton, George Stubbs, 1724-1806, [exhibition] Tate Gallery. , Tate Publishing, London, 1984, pp. 90, 92, 133, no. 60, NJ18 St915 E43 (YCBA) + [YCBA]

Judy Egerton, George Stubbs, painter : catalogue raisonne, , Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 2007, pp. 174-6, no. 36, NJ18 St915 A12 +E44 2007 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Stephen F. Eisenman, The cry of nature : art and the making of animal rights, Reaktion Books, London, 2013, pp. 111-14, N7660 .E57 2013 (YCBA) [YCBA]

English sporting paintings, Autumn exhibition 1960 ... Frank Partridge & Sons Ltd. ... November 1st-December 3rd. , Frank Partridge & Sons, Ltd., London, 1960, no. 60, DealerCat Partridge Fine Arts, Ltd. (YCBA) [YCBA]

Jean Louis Ferrier, L'Aventure de l'art au XIXe siècle, Chêne Hachette, Paris, 1991, p. 68, N6450 A94 1991 (YCBA) + [YCBA]

John Fletcher, Deer in British sporting art, Essays of Friends of British Sporting Art, no. 60, The British Sporting Art Trust, London, 2013, p. 3, N8250 .B571 60 (YCBA) [YCBA]

John Ford, Ackermann 1783-1983 : the business of art, London, 1983, p. 188, N8640 A25 +F67 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Douglas Fordham, George Stubbs Zoon Politikon, Oxford Art Journal, vol. 33, no. 1, 2010, p. 5, fig. 2, N1 O83 + Oversize (HAAS) Also available online (Orbis). [ORBIS]

George Stubbs as a Printmaker, Print Collector's Newsletter, September/October 1982, pp. 113-16, NE1 P76 OVERSIZE (HAAS) [ORBIS]

Walter Gilbey, Life of George Stubbs, R.A., Vinton, London, 1898, p. 168, no. 5, 6, NJ18 St915 G55 (HAAS) [ORBIS]

Catherine M. Gordon, British paintings Hogarth to Turner, Frederick Warne, London, 1981, p. 62, ND466 G67 (YCBA) [YCBA]

E. Landseer Grundy, Animal Painters Past and Present, Magazine of Art, Vol. 14, January 1891, pp. 389-90, N1 M34+ (YCBA) [YCBA]

Nicholas H. J. Hall, Fearful symmetry : George Stubbs, painter of the English Enlightenment, , Hall & Knight Ltd., New York, 2000, pp. 20, 24, NJ18 St915 F4 2000 (YCBA) [YCBA]

George Hamilton, The English school, a series of the most approved productions in painting and sculpture, executed by British artists from the days of Hogarth to the present time. Selected, arranged, and accompanied with descriptive and explanatory notices in English and French. , Charles Tilt, London, 1831, p. 134 (v. 3), N6764 H3 1831 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Luke Herrmann, The Paul Mellon Collection at Burlington House, Connoisseur, vol. 157, December 1964, p. 216, N1 C75 + OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Horse Attacked by a Lion, Burlington Magazine, vol. 121,no.914, May 1979, p. xliv, N1B87 + (YCBA) Available online through JStor. [YCBA]

Ozias Humphry, A memoir of George Stubbs, London, 2005, p.4, V2961 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Ozias Humphry, Ozias Humphry manuscript memoir of George Stubbs, Picton Collection, Liverpool Record Office, 1875, p. 24, Film B168 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Alex Kidson, Earlier British paintings in the Walker Art Gallery and Sudley House, Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, 2012, pp. 168, 171, fig. 70, ND466 .K537 2012 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Leonard Koscianski, Hugh Townley : from Tuba City to Prasanti Nilayam : August 12-September 23, 1984, Newport Art Museum., Newport Harbor Art Museum, Newport Beach, Calif. (850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach, Ca, 1984, xcat A (HAAS)

Raymond Lister, British romantic painting, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge New York, 1989, no. 5, ND467 L53 1989 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden : Paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, After p. 16, Unnumbered plate, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Morley, Malcolm Morley in a Nutshell: The Fine Art of Painting 1954-2012, New Haven, CT, 2012, p.19, NJ18 .M831 A12 (YCBA) 2012 [YCBA]

Venetia Morrison, The art of George Stubbs, Wellfleet Press, Seacaucus, N.J., 1989, p. 108-18, Unnumbered plate, NJ18 St915 M67 1989+ (YCBA) [YCBA]

Musée du Petit Palais, Peinture romantique anglaise et les preraphaelites., Exposition: 21 janvier-16 avril 1972. , Paris, 1972, p. 252, ND467 P37 1972 (YCBA) [YCBA]

National Gallery of Art, Painting in Georgian England from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1970, p. 7, no. 18, ND488 P25 (YCBA) [YCBA]

National Gallery of British Sports and Pastimes, list of sports and pastimes : the first 600 selected pictures : there are 3,000 and more paintings, coloured prints, etc., which will be exhibited from time to time. , National Gallery of British Sports and Pastimes, London, 1950, p. 62, no. 340, N8250 L65 (YCBA) [YCBA]

The National Gallery, London, The British school, National Gallery Publications, London, 1998, p. 246, ND461 L62 1998 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Robert Michael Neuman, Baroque and Rococo art and architecture, Pearson, Boston, 2013, p. 401, N6415.B3 N48 2013 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Anna Ottani Cavina, Geometries of silence, three approaches to neoclassical art , Columbia University Press, New York, 2004, p. 15, N6425 N4 O78 2004 (HAAS) [ORBIS]

Painting in England 1700-1850 : collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon : Exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, , 1,2, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, 1963, p. 175 (v. 1), no. 335, ND466 V57 v.1-2 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Painting in England 1700-1850 from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, The Royal Academy of Arts Winter Exhibition 1964-65., , Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK, 1964, p. 76 (v. 1), no. 270, pl. 52, ND466 R68 1964/65 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Morton D. Paley, The Apocalyptic Sublime, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn., 1986, pp. 4-5, pl. 3, ND1432 G73 P34 1986 [ORBIS]

Constance-Anne Parker, Mr. Stubbs the horse painter, J. A. Allen, London, 1971, pp. 72-82, ND497.S93 P37 + Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Constance-Anne Parker, Mr. Stubbs, the Horse Painter, J. A. Allen, London, 1971, pp. 72-82, NJ18 St915 +P37 Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : a passion for British art [large print labels], , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 1, N5220 M552 P381 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Ronald Paulson, Breaking and remaking, aesthetic practice in England, 1700-1820 , Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, 1989, pp. 303-5, BH221 G72 P38 1989 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Nicholas Penny, Lord Rockingham's Sculpture Collection and 'The Judgement of Paris' by Nollekens, The J Paul Getty Museum Journal, vol. 19, 1991, p. 31, N852 M25 A25 +Oversize (LSF) Available Online (Orbis) [ORBIS]

Sir David Piper, The genius of British painting, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1975, p. 178, ND461 G45 (YCBA) + [YCBA]

Alex Potts, Natural Order and the Call of the Wild: The Politics of Animal Picturing, Oxford Art Journal, vol. 13, 1990, p. 31, fn 8, N1 O83 + (HAAS) Also Available on line in JSTOR and Oxford University Press Journal data bases. [ORBIS]

Barnaby Rogerson, Did Stubbs Go to Morocco?, Country Life, vol. 194, March 2000, pp. 60-1, S3 C68 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Herbert W Rott, George Stubbs, 1724-1806, science into art , Prestel, Munich ; New York, 2012, pp. 33, 37-38, fig. 9, NJ18.St915 A1213 2012 + OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

John Russell, Yale Opens its Doors to Britain, Art , The Times (London), Issue no. 59985, April 23, 1977, p. 13, Available online : Times Digital Archive Also available on Microfilm: Film An T482 (SML) [ORBIS]

Simon Schama, The Yale Centre for British Art, TLS, the Times Literary Supplement, , May 20, 1977, p. 619, TLS Historical Archive [ORBIS]

Walter Shaw Sparrow, George Stubbs as a Painter of Big Game, Connoisseur, v. 96, no. 408, August 1935, pp. 63-67, N1 C75+ (YCBA) [YCBA]

Stubbs, an exhibition in honor of Paul Mellon : National Gallery of Art, 4 May-2 June 1985. , National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1985, pp. 5, 8, no. 24, V 0413 (YCBA) [YCBA]

T. N., Memoirs of George Stubbs, Esq. the Celebrated Painter of Horses, The Sporting Magazine, vol. 32, July 1808, pp. 56-57, Sporting 2090 (YCBA Rare Books) [ORBIS]

Basil Taylor, George Stubbs: The lion and horse theme, The Lion and Horse Theme , Burlington Magazine, Vol. 107, No.743, February 1965, p. 81-87, fig. 44, N1 B87+ (YCBA) Available online on JSTOR [YCBA]

Basil Taylor, Stubbs, Phaidon, London, 1975, pp. 33-4, 42..., pl. 60, NJ18 St915 T39 1975 (YCBA) + [YCBA]

Basil Taylor, Stubbs, Phaidon, London, 1971, p. 209, pl. 60, NJ18 St915 +T39 1971B (YCBA) [YCBA]

Stella A. Walker, Sporting art : England 1700-1900, Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., New York, 1972, no. 22, N8250 W35 (YCBA) + [YCBA]

Robert R. Wark, A horse and lion painting by George Stubbs, Bulletin of the Associates in Fine Arts at Yale University, vol. 22, November 1955, pp. 1-6, V 1983 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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Malcolm Warner, Stubbs and the Horse, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2004, p. 111, NJ18 St915 W37 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Yale University Art Gallery, Painting in England, 1700-1850, from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon : [exhibition at] Yale University Art Gallery, April 15-June 20, 1965, , vol. 1, W. Clowes and sons, New Haven, 1965, pp. 48-9 (v. 1), no. 182, pl. 52 (v. 2), ND466 Y35 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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