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George Stubbs Mares and Foals in a Landscape
George Stubbs' Mares and Foals in a River Landscape, painted in 1763 is an idiosyncratic depiction of an equestrian scene, rendered in a style of immense popularity in Georgian Britain. The artist, known for his anatomical exploration of depicting horses and his 1766 study 'The Anatomy of the Horse', was one of the leading animal painters of his day and one of the most remarkable figures of his type in the history of painting. With a studied naturalism, Stubbs was both anatomist and artist combined, endlessly observing and building on his knowledge, before finally painting the animals from life or compiling a number of life sketches into one finished canvas. Having exhibited a great deal of paintings featuring foals and mares at the Royal Academy in the decades surrounding his Mares and Foals in a River Landscape, Stubbs was inundated with prestigious commissions from aristocrats and nobles to paint their equine menagerie.
George Stubbs name is synonymous with the craft of animal paintings, and his stunning canvases of horses in movement would not be surpassed until Eadweard Muybridge's photographic experiments over a century later. As well as studying the living movements and the flexing joints of his equine subjects, Stubbs closely examined many dead horses, performing his own autopsies on them to discover their inner workings. For this reason, Stubbs' horses were among the first in English painting to be anatomically correct. Yet, the merits of his paintings can not be measured based upon the accuracy of the anatomical reproduction. For Stubbs, artistic expression was achieved through a nascent sense of realism, making him a rare experimenter in an age in which painters worked to an idiosyncratic ideal.
Within his imagined scenes of a rural idyll one can see the emerging aesthetic vocabularies of Neoclassicism. For all his anatomical studies and each of his autopsies Stubbs produced wholly for his commissioner and patron. Although dreaming to be a history painter, Stubbs mystical imagination did not stretch as far as his contemporary Henry Fuseli. But Stubbs' canvases betray a distinct pre-Romantic sensibility, and do not fit comfortably within the established late-eighteenth century narrative of Rococo and Neoclassicalism. His works instead reflect a passion for knowledge and understanding in the Georgian era, when new ideas about visual pleasures, immersive experiences, and perception were making an indelible mark on the ideals and the ideologies of the upper classes. Mares and Foals in a River Landscape is a perfect manifestation of the unquenchable thirst for knowledge that was often expressed in eighteenth century Britain in a rather quaint form.
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