<< YCBA Home Yale Center for British Art Yale Center for British Art << YCBA Home

YCBA Collections Search

IIIF Actions
George Stubbs, 1724–1806
Two Gentlemen Going a Shooting, with a View of Creswell Crags, Taken on the Spot
ca. 1767
Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
40 x 50 inches (101.6 x 127 cm), Frame: 47 1/2 × 57 1/2 × 3 1/4 inches (120.7 × 146.1 × 8.3 cm)

Label on verso, center left: “Pitt & Scott Ltd | London | [handwritten] Wildenstein | [typed] B O [handwritten] 6879 | 03”; lower center: “Established [logo with lion and unicorn] 1783 | By Royal Warrant | Arthur Ackermann & Son, Inc. | of London and Chicago | 10 Eas[...]”

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Given by Paul Mellon in memory of his friend James Cox Brady, Yale College, Class of 1929
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
cliff | costume | cottage | dogs (animals) | guns | hills | hunters | hunting | landscape | limestone | men | rifles (long guns) | river | series (groups) | sporting art | sportsmen | water mill | wheel
Associated Places:
Creswell | Creswell Crags | Derbyshire | Derwent | England | Europe | Nottinghamshire | United Kingdom
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

This is the first in a series of four paintings that depict episodes from a day’s sport, completed by George Stubbs between 1767 and 1770. The painter himself gave the pictures their titles, so we know that the setting is supposed to be near Creswell Crags, which are steep limestone formations found between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Caves in the crags contain prehistoric human remains as well as hunting tools and weapons (Stubbs also featured the formations in his paintings of lions attacking horses). While the shooting series seems to contemplate the timelessness of the hunt, it might also be interpreted as a meditation on the passage of time itself. The first scene takes place at dawn, when the hunting party is preparing to embark. William Wildman, the wealthy wholesale butcher and sportsman who owned—and likely commissioned—the series, is probably one of the huntsmen depicted.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

The title of this first episode in the sequence of four that hang on this wall indicates that the setting is meant to be Creswell Crags, the steep limestone formations with caves on the border between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Though modest in scale, the crags appealed to the taste of Romantic travelers for wild places with primeval associations, and elsewhere Stubbs evoked the setting in a number of his savage lion-and-horse subject pictures. We do not know for sure the identity of the two friends who are shown here preparing to embark on a day’s shooting, but one of them may have been William Wildman, a lover of sport, an owner of racehorses, and a wealthy wholesale butcher, who was one of Stubbs’s best patrons. Certainly Wildman owned the set by the time he died in 1787. The time of day is presumably meant to be shortly after dawn.

Gallery label for Paul Mellon's Legacy: A Passion for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29)
With the title of the first painting in this series of episodes from a day's sport, Stubbs indicates that the setting is supposed to be at Creswell Crags, which are steep limestone formations on the border between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. The Crags contain caves in which were found the remains of prehistoric animals, as well as tools and weapons that were some of the oldest signs of human life in Britain. With their primeval and savage associations, they clearly appealed to Stubbs's imagination, and he used them as the setting for some of his paintings of horses attacked by lions. In the Shooting Series, where he shows them prominently in the first scene and in the distance in the fourth, they serve to suggest the idea of the hunt as an age-old human endeavor: in their shooting expedition his eighteenth-century sporting gentlemen follow literally in the footsteps of early man. At this time the Crags and the land around them were part of the estate of the Duke of Portland. Stubbs was painting an equestrian portrait of Portland in about 1766-67, and it may have been then that he sketched them for his first shooting scene; as his title reminds us, the view was "Taken on the Spot."
Although the portrait of Portland and the first shooting scene were hung together at the Society of Artists exhibition of 1767, Portland seems not to have commissioned this or any other work in the series. In 1787 the whole series was sold at Christie's by the executors of William Wildman, and it is possible that Wildman commissioned it, or purchased it directly, from the artist. Wildman was a meat salesman who made a fortune as the middleman between some of the great estates and Smithfield Market in London. He was also a lover of sport, the owner of racehorses, a friend of Stubbs, and one of his best patrons. Judging from Stubbs's painting of him and his sons with the racehorse Eclipse (Baltimore Museum of Art), the man in the darker coat in the Shooting Series may be intended as a likeness of him too. Certainly the features of both men have a portrait-like quality.
Between 1769 and 1771 the Shooting Series was published as a set of prints, engraved by William Woollett and published by Thomas Bradford. The prints are captioned with descriptions of the scenes in verse, and-though by no means literary masterpieces-these throw light on the way in which the paintings were enjoyed and understood in their own time. They present the series as dealing not just with four typical moments from a shooting expedition, but also with four times of day. With its beautiful effects of mist softening the forms of the landscape, dew sparkling on the grass and leaves, and a rosy glow in the sky, the first scene shows a time shortly after dawn-in "the grey-ey'd Morn's uncertain Light." More sharply defined than the rest of the composition, the two gentlemen load their guns, watched by their "well taught Dogs." In the second scene it is later in the morning-"The Dew's exhal'd from off the spangled Spray" and "Bright Sol's all chearing Beams illumine the Day"-as the sportsmen walk by a cottage in search of good shooting. The third scene, set probably in the afternoon, recounts the shooting of a bird: the pointers indicate its position in the undergrowth; it "springs to find some safe resort"; one man half-raises his gun; the other ?res, with dark clouds looming behind like the puff of gunsmoke magnified; "Like Lightning flys the Shot"; and the bird falls from the air. In the final scene darkness begins to fall, and "Calm Eve's approach here bids the slaughter cease." One sportsman rests as the other adds another hare to the hare, cock-pheasant, snipe, and other game that are the day's spoils. Leaving the open air that has been so important for their shooting, the men end the day in the natural shelter of the woods.
The absence of any servants or attendants suggests that Stubbs's gentlemen-whether William Wildman and friend or not-are probably not wealthy landowners shooting over their own property, and the lines accompanying the first scene confirm that they are on a day's outing from the city: "Lo! the keen Sportsmen rise from Beds of Down, / And quit th'Environs of the Smoaky Town." The fact that the cottage in the second scene appears to be derelict underlines the idea of their getting away from it all: far from the city crowds, they have the countryside all to themselves. On a darker note it also calls to mind the rural depopulation lamented by Oliver Goldsmith in his almost exactly contemporary poem The Deserted Village (published 1770). Goldsmith would have considered such city sportsmen, probably well-to-do merchants of some kind-as William Wildman was-to be part of "trade's unfeeling train," who "Usurp the land and dispossess the swain." But clearly Stubbs had no such critical point in mind and presents both the sportsmen and their sport in a wholly positive light. As Stephen Deuchar has pointed out, his protagonists are in fact ?outing the Game Laws of the time, which reserved the right to hunt game to landowners. The laws were a controversial issue, and there was much debate about whether the bounties of the countryside should be restricted in this way or open to all as a natural right. It is even possible that Stubbs intended his Shooting Series as a statement in favor of the latter point of view, showing the "unqualified" sportsman not as a form of poacher, but as a gentleman enjoying wholesome leisure.

Malcolm Warner

Malcolm Warner, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, pp. 118-120, no. 44, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

George Stubbs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015-03-23 - 2015-11-13) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

George Stubbs in the Collection of Paul Mellon: a Memorial Exhibition (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2000-02-14 - 2000-05-15) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

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]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of South Australia, 1998-09-16 - 1998-11-15) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Queensland Art Gallery, 1998-07-15 - 1998-09-06) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1998-05-01 - 1998-07-05) [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]

Noble Exercise - The Sporting Ideal in Eighteenth-Century British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 1982-07-14 - 1982-09-19) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

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

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, pp. 172-76, pl. 23, NJ18.St915 B53 2005 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Christie's sale catalogue : A valuable collection ancient & modern pictures, by some of the most admired artists of the English school, &c. the property of William Wildeman, Esq., deceased : 20 January 1787, Christie's, January 20, 1787, p. 8, lots 85 & 86, Art Sales Catalogues Online [ORBIS]

Christie's sale catalogue : Modern pictures and water colour drawings of Charles Taylor, Esq., deceased. . . and William Carpenter, Esq., deceased : 2 December 1899, Christie's, December 2, 1899, p. 8, lot 38, Art Sales Catalogues Online [ORBIS]

Christie's Sale Catalogue: British Pictures 1500-1850. 1 December 2000, Christie's, 2000, p. 80, Lot 60, Sales Catalogues (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. 218-219, N590.2 A83 (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. 68-9, no. 47, NJ18 St915 G54 1999 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Stephen Deuchar, Noble exercise : the sporting ideal in eighteenth-century British art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1982, pp. 10-11, 21, 31, 34, 41-2, no. 20, pl. 20(i), ND1388 G7 D48+ (YCBA) [YCBA]

Stephen Deuchar, Sporting art in eighteenth-century England, a social and political history , Yale University Press, New Haven, 1988, pp. 40-1, 114-21, N8250 D48 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Judy Egerton, British Sporting and Animal Paintings 1655-1867 : A Catalogue : The Paul Mellon Collection, , Tate Publishing, London, 1978, pp. 81-3, no. 79, Colour pl. 13, ND1383 G7 B75 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Judy Egerton, George Stubbs and the Landscape of Creswell Crags, Burlington Magazine, vol. 126,no.981, December 1984, pp. 738-9, fig. 2, N1 B87 + (YCBA) Available online in JSTOR. [YCBA]

Judy Egerton, George Stubbs, 1724-1806, [exhibition] Tate Gallery. , Tate Publishing, London, 1984, pp. 108-11, no. 73, NJ18 St915 E43 (YCBA) + [YCBA]

Judy Egerton, George Stubbs, painter : catalogue raisonne, , Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 2007, pp. 250-2, no. 82, NJ18 St915 A12 +E44 2007 (YCBA) [YCBA]

John Ford, Ackermann 1783-1983 : the business of art, London, 1983, p. 158, N8640 A25 +F67 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Robert Fountain, Stubbs' dogs, the hounds and domestic dogs of the eighteenth century as seen through the paintings of George Stubbs , Arthur Ackermann & Son Ltd., London, 1984, pp. 44-7, NJ18 St915 A12 (YCBA) + [YCBA]

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

Mark Hallett, Reynolds : portraiture in action, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, New Haven, 2014, pp. 239,242, NJ18.R36 H35 2014 OVERSIZE (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, pp.5,110,118-20, no. 44, fig. 5, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Venetia Morrison, The art of George Stubbs, Wellfleet Press, Seacaucus, N.J., 1989, pp. 63-87, 84-5, Unnumbered plate, NJ18 St915 M67 1989+ (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, Emblem and expression, meaning in English art of the eighteenth century , Thames and Hudson, London, 1975, pp. 176-8, no. 109, NX543 P38 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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

Roberta Smith, Horses, Hounds and Men, at Work and at Play, New York Times, August 7, 2015, p. C22, Available online : Proquest .com/nytimes [ORBIS]

Society of Artists of Great Britain, A catalogue of the pictures, sculptures, designs in architecture, models, drawings, prints, etc. : exhibited at the great room in Spring Garden, Charing Cross, April the twenty-second, 1767 / by the Society of Artists of Great Britain incorporated by his, William Bunce, London, UK, 1767, p. 13, no. 157, N5055 S6 C3 (RARE BOOKS, YCBA) Also Available online (18th Century Collection Online - Gale) [ORBIS]

Society of Artists of Great Britain, A critical examination of the pictures, sculptures, designs in architecture, models, drawings, prints, etc., exhibited at the great room in Spring Gardens, Charing Cross, April 22, 1767, intended for the use of those who would understand what they see. , W. Griffin, London, UK, 1767, p. 16, no. 157, N5055 S6 C3 1760A (RARE BOOKS, YCBA) Also Available Online (18th Century Collections Online - Gale); there is no entry for # 188, Wright's "Portrait of a Man, Known as the "Indian Captain" [ORBIS]

Society of Artists of Great Britain, Le pour et le contre, being a poetical display of the merit and demerit of the capital paintings, exhibited at Spring Gardens ... , London, 1767, p. 15, N5055.S6 C3 1760A (YCBA) Also available Online Online (18th Century Collections Online - Gale) [YCBA]

David H. Solkin, Art in Britain 1660-1815, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2015, p. 218, no. 221, N6766 S65 2015 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Walter Shaw Sparrow, George Stubbs and Ben Marshall, v. 2, Cassell Scribner, London New York, 1929, pp. 20-1, NJ18 St915 S73 1929 (YCBA) + [YCBA]

Stewart sale catalogue : The genuine and valuable collection of pictures, collected . . . by Lt. Gen. Stibbert, deceased : 30 May 1811, Stewart, May 30, 1811, p. 8, lot 140, Art Sales Catalogues Online [ORBIS]

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, no. 4, V 0413 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Basil Taylor, Stubbs, Phaidon, London, 1975, pp. 41, 209, pl. 48, 49, NJ18 St915 T39 1975 (YCBA) + [YCBA]

Malcolm Warner, George Stubbs, his patrons and collectors , Magazine Antiques, vol. 166, no. 6, December 2004, pp. 69, 70, V 1629 (YCBA) Available Online (Orbis). [YCBA]

John Wilmerding, Essays in honor of Paul Mellon, collector and benefactor, Essays , National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC & Hanover, NH, 1986, pp. 84-94, N7442.2 M455 1986 (YCBA) [YCBA]

If you have information about this object that may be of assistance please contact us.