Saturday is Travers Stakes at Saratoga, one of the most prestigious horse races of the summer. It is also George Stubbs’ birthday, one of the greatest horse “portrait” painters of all time. What set Stubbs apart was his dedication to learning horse anatomy:
Stubbs (1724 -1806) was born in Liverpool to a leather currier and merchant, and he followed in his father’s footsteps until he was about sixteen. Little is known about his life before age 35, but we do know that he briefly apprenticed for a Lancashire painter and engraver, but he found the work wasn’t to his liking, and so became a self-taught painter. Stubbs had always had an interest in anatomy, and in his early twenties he supported himself as a portrait artist while studying at a hospital in the North of England.
Stubbs had long believed that “nature was and is always superior to art, whether Greek or Roman,” and after an extended trip to Italy, his suspicions were confirmed. He then devoted himself to painting natural beauty, and it was here that his passion for anatomy and art intersected. In the late 1750s he and his wife rented a farmhouse, and spent many months dissecting horses; during this time Stubbs also painted many horses for wealthy patrons. His clients were all of the opinion that his depictions of horses were much more realistic than those of previous artists, and soon his reputation as an equine authority was secure. [art.com]