Project – Drawing Animals
Research Point

Look at the skeletal structure of the cat, dog or horse. Research the anatomical drawings of George Stubbs (1724-1806) and consider how these inform Stubb’s finished pieces?


The Skeleton of a Horse

George Stubbs was born in Liverpool, the son of a prosperous tanner. As a lad he drew leftover animal bones and progressed to briefly being apprenticed to a painter. However he is generally recognised as being a self taught artist.

Stubbs went on to study anatomy at York Hospital  where he assisted the hospital and the students by providing anatomical drawings and engravings and it is understood he also taught students there. Apparently Stubbs had a gory reputation for dissecting cadavers.

From then on Stubbs ‘s talents were well recognised and he undertook many commissions on painting for owners’ horses

Furthering his interest in anatomy he moved to a farmhouse in Horkstow, Lincolnshire where for eighteen months he dissected the anatomy of horses and in 1766 produced his first treatise – The Anatomy of a Horse.

His labours are best described in the following extract from A Memoir of George Stubbs by Ozias Humphry –

“The first subject which was procured was a horse which was bled to death by the jugular vein – after which the arteries and veins were injected – Then a bar of iron was suspended from the ceiling of the room, by a teagle of iron to which iron hooks were fixed – runder this bar a plank was swung at 16 inches wide for the horse feet to rest upon – and the horse was suspended to the bar of iron by the above mentioned hooks which was fastened into the opposite side of the horse that was intended to be designed, by passing the hooks through the ribs and fastening them under the back bone – and by these means the horse was fixed in the attitude which these prints represent and continued hanging in the posture six or seven weeks, or as long as they were fit for use.

His drawings of a skeleton were previously made – and then the operations upon this fixed subject were thus begun.

He first began by dissecting and designing the muscles of the abdomen – proceeding through five different layers of muscles till he came to the peritoneum and the pleura, through which appeared the lungs and the intestines – after which the bowels were taken out, and cast away.

Then he proceeded to dissect the head, by first stripping off the skin and after having cleared and prepared the muscles, et cetera, for the drawing, he made careful designs of them and wrote the explanation which usually employed him a whole day.

Then he took off another lay of muscles which he prepared, designed, and described, in the same manner as is represented in the book – and so he proceeded until he came to the skeleton  It must be noted that by means of the injection [of wax or tallow] the muscles, the blood vessels, and the nerves, retained their form to the last without undergoing any change of position.

In this manner he advanced his work by stripping off skin and clearing and preparing as much of the subject as he concluded would employ a whole day to prepare design and describe, as above related, till the whole subject was completed.”

Below are extracts from Anatomy of the Horse  –


Finished study for ‘The First Anatomical Table of the Muscles of the Horse’, 1756-1758


Finished study for ‘The Second Anatomical Table of the Muscles of the Horse’, 1756-1758


Finished study for ‘The Third Anatomical Table of the Muscles of the Horse’, 1756-1758


Finished study for ‘The Fourth Anatomical Table of the Muscles of the Horse’, 1756-1758


Finished study for ‘The Fifth Anatomical Table of the Muscles of the Horse’, 1756-1758

PL001092  PL001087

Stubbs was now a successful physiologist and painter but he followed but he furthered his research with dissection and anatomical drawings of other animals, even a tiger.

At the age of seventy he published he published a further work – A Comparative Anatomical Exposition of the Human Body with that of a Tiger and a Common Fowl.

So how did Stubbs apply his knowledge of the inside of say, a horse, to the painting of the live animal? How did he depict the outer layer of the horse, the skin, from what lay beneath?

Insofar that many other painters, particularly before Stubbs’ anatomical works, have satisfactorily painted the lumps and bumps of a horse without studying the internal, what made Stubbs great?
Well, he was probably the first painter that produces a “portrait” of the horse and notably to the satisfaction of the many wealthy owners of successful racehorses who were beating a path to his door. So he was the best of the day and his paintings were preserved.

If one looks at three of his most appreciated paintings, Whistlejacket, Tristram Shandy and Molly Longlegs, you do see rippling muscle, prominent bone and distended vein so Stubbs was a master of accuracy He used shadow and shine to display the relief of the body and he conveys the magnificence and personality of the beast.




Furthermore Stubbs leaves a legacy of reference for forthcoming artists (and the veterinarians of the time), of a scientific work.


Text – Paul Bonaventura, John Lienhard, Wikipedia

Images – Royal Academy.


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