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Sporting Art, Horses, George Stubbs, The Horse and Lion, Antique Mezzotint Print, c. 1770

$3,250

George Stubbs, A.R.A. (British, 1724-1806) (after)
Benjamin Green (c. 1736-1800) (engraver)
The Horse and Lion
London: c. 1767-1775
Mezzotint, uncolored
First or third state
16.5 x 21.75 inches, printed image
17.5 x 22.5 inches, overall
$3,250

This portrait of a horse startled by a lion was originally rendered by the preeminent British horse artist of the 18th century, George Stubbs. From the early 1760s to the 1790s, Stubbs frequently returned to the theme of horses fighting and horses threatened by wild animals. To him, this represented a concept of English Romantic aesthetics known as “the sublime”: powerful and elemental emotions beyond rational thought processes and often inspired by natural phenomena. Lennox-Boyd’s 1989 catalogue raisonné of Stubbs’s engravings identifies four states of the print that, like this one, are inscribed with Stubbs’s and Green’s names in italics in the lower margin. The first and third states were both printed without titles, the first by Green in 1767 and the third by Sayer & Bennett after Green sold them the plate in 1775. “To judge from the number which survive, proof impressions (state I) of The Horse and Lion were issued in some quantity in 1767. The plate was reworked before the fully lettered state of 1768 (state II) was published. Green’s skilful articulation of the distress of the horse, the point of focus of this print, made his mezzotint in these early states highly desirable to collectors” (Lennox-Boyd, p. 73).

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Description

The earliest impressions pulled from the first state have Green’s signature in the lower left corner of the image; by the second state Green’s signature was removed and a title was added. The lower margin of the print shown here has been trimmed to remove the publication credit, so it is not clear whether this is the first or third state. Lennox-Boyd says that the original painting for The Horse and Lion has not been located, although many “more or less spurious painted versions of the scene are known, some of which are almost certainly copies of the print.” He also notes that this was the first print to show the “frightened horse,” Stubbs’ best-known theme among his contemporaries and one that he incorporated into other works. The particular image seen in the print shown here was so popular that Green wore out the plate and sold it to Sayer & Bennett, who re-engraved it before publishing the third state (a “false proof” before title) and fourth state (with the addition of a title in the lower margin). The work remained so popular that their plate wore out by 1788 and was re-engraved and republished by Robert Laurie. George Clint also engraved and published a version of this print.

George Stubbs (1724-1806) was one of the greatest sporting artists of Georgian England. He combined science and art by painting animals with anatomical precision. After a visit to Rome and a period of residence in Liverpool, he returned to England in 1760. He also drew horses based on dissections, and in 1766 published a monumental series of engravings, Anatomy of the Horse, which cemented his reputation as a master of the subject. His vast body of work includes paintings of the prize horses of England of the late 18th century, often with their proud owners or trainers. He also painted hunting scenes, and wild animals such as lions and tigers, including some with lions stalking horses. Stubbs served as president of the Society of Artists in 1773 and though he had his quarrels with the Royal Academy, he exhibited there periodically and was elected as an Associate in 1780. Many of his paintings are in the world’s major museums, with a large number represented in the Yale Center for British Art (Paul Mellon Collection). Some of the greatest engravers and printers of the day were engaged to render Stubbs’ animal pictures as prints, including William Woollett (1735-1785), and Stubbs’ son, the printmaker George Townly Stubbs (1756-1815) (sometimes spelled “Townley”).

Benjamin Green was a British mezzotint engraver known for his prints after George Stubbs paintings, his portraits of famous Americans and his plates for Morant’s History and Antiquities of the County of Essex (1768). Green was a member of the Incorporated Society of Artists and exhibited with them from 1765 to 1774. He also taught drawing at Christ’s Hospital.

Full publication information: Geo. Stubbs pinxit. Benj’n. Green fecit.

Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, wear, soft creases, and printers creases. Few short marginal tears repaired verso. Margins trimmed, but present; lower margin trimming removing publication information. Laid paper with emblem watermark.

References:

Lennox-Boyd, Christopher, Tim Clayton and Rob Dixon. George Stubbs, The Complete Engraved Works. New York: Stipple Publishing, 1989. Item 4, pp. 72-73.

Maxted, Ian. “The London book trades 1775-1800: a preliminary checklist of members.” Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History. U.K.: Devon Library and Information Services. 24 January 2005. http://www.devon.gov.uk/library/locstudy/bookhist/lonn.html (Orme) (6 April 2005).

“Pieces of Eden.” Yale Center for British Art. http://www.dmca.yale.edu/bacpoe/eden/exhibition/eden_exhibition.html (9 March 2011).

Williamson, George C., ed. Bryan’s Dictionary of Painters and Engravers. London: G. Bell and Sons: 1930. Vol. 2, p. 274 (Green); Vol. 5, pp. 139-140 (Stubbs).

Additional information

Century

18th Century