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George Stubbs, 1724–1806

Two Gentlemen Shooting

ca. 1769
Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
39 x 49 inches (99.1 x 124.5 cm), Frame: 47 1/2 × 57 5/8 × 3 1/4 inches (120.7 × 146.4 × 8.3 cm)
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:
costume | dogs (animals) | fence | field | guns | hunters | hunting | landscape | limestone | men | rifles (long guns) | series (groups) | sporting art | sportsmen
Associated Places:
Creswell | Derbyshire | England | Nottinghamshire | United Kingdom
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

The third, climactic episode captures the moment when a shot—possibly the first of the day—is fired, leaving a ghostly cloud of smoke in the air. On the far right of the canvas the dead partridge falls upside down from the sky, as the hounds hasten to meet it. The light of the afternoon is beginning to dim, and dark clouds are making their way across the sky. The verses that accompanied William Woollett’s engraving after Stubbs suggest that it was the change of weather in the afternoon that brought the quarry into relief against the sky for the huntsmen, making possible a clear shot: “A Gentle Gale that blows along the land / The Game betrays.”

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

In this third episode, presumably set in the early to mid-afternoon, the huntsman at the rear has just taken aim, and fired his gun; a puff of smoke has been discharged with the shot; the two, well-trained dogs are “pointing;” and the stricken bird falls through the air, unseen by the huntsman’s friend, who responds to the shot with an instantaneous crouching reflex:
A gentle Gale that blows along the Land The Game betrays; the Dogs they Draw, the Stand: Search all the Objects that afford delight, There’s none like this can please the Fowlers sight;
Softly they Step expecting instant Sport, The Covey springs to find some safe resort; Like Lightning flys the Shot, one falls to th’Ground, The rest well mark’d, again are to be found.

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. 46, 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]

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]

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]

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 35, Art Sales Catalogues Online [ORBIS]

Christie's Sale Catalogue: British Pictures 1500-1850. 1 December 2000, Christie's, 2000, p. 80, no. 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. 68-69, no. 49, 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, 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. 81-83, no. 79, 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. 738-743, N1 B87 + (YCBA) Available online in JSTOR. [YCBA]

Judy Egerton, George Stubbs, 1724-1806, [exhibition] Tate Gallery. , Tate Publishing, London, 1984, pp. 109-11, no. 75, NJ18 St915 E43 (YCBA) + [YCBA]

Judy Egerton, George Stubbs, painter : catalogue raisonne, , Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 2007, pp. 250, 252, no. 84, NJ18 St915 A12 +E44 2007 (YCBA) [YCBA]

John Ford, Ackermann 1783-1983 : the business of art, London, 1983, p. 159, 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. 44-47, 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, 241, 242, fig. no. 223, NJ18.R36 H35 2014 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Mark Laird, A natural history of English gardening, 1650-1800, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, New Haven, 2015, pp. 11, 12, pl. 12, SB457.6 .L35 2015 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. 118-21, no. 46, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Venetia Morrison, The art of George Stubbs, Wellfleet Press, Seacaucus, N.J., 1989, pp. 63-87, 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. 108, 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]

Walter Shaw Sparrow, George Stubbs and Ben Marshall, v. 2, Cassell Scribner, London New York, 1929, pp. 20-22, 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]

Basil Taylor, Stubbs, Phaidon, London, 1975, pp. 41, 209, pl. 51, 52, 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. 85-94, fig. 3, N7442.2 M455 1986 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Yale Center for British Art, Selected paintings, drawings & books, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1977, p. 25, N590.2 A82 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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