While conducing prospect research at work, I stumbled upon an unmarked George Stubbs exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. An under-recognized late 18th century British artist, Stubbs is renowned for his exquisite equestrian portraits, which expertly depict the musculature of wild and domesticated horses. In his works, the horse is elevated to the position of a human protagonist. Stubbs meticulous brush details both the physical attributes and the unique character of his animal sitters. First encountering his impressive portrait of Whistlejacket (1762) at the National Gallery in London, I was captivated by the energy emanating off of the canvas. Emphasizing the horse’s independent energy, rather than portraying the stallion as a docile pet, Stubbs respectfully paints the horse with stoic pride.
Coming from an equestrian background, I am deeply moved by his honest and strong depictions. Thus, I was thrilled to learn that the Met was temporarily exhibiting a number of Stubbs works in gallery 629, located in the rear of the British Art Wing. Eight works are on loan until the Yale Center for British Art completes its renovation in 2016. Braving the rain and relentless crowds, I navigated the Met to look upon two of his works in particular: Turf, with Jockey up, at New Market (1765) and Lustre, held by a Groom (1762) Astounded by the symmetry of his works, I sat in quiet contemplation. Stubbs paintings are not only materially beautiful, but also they instruct the viewer on how he or she should act towards animals—always with kindness and deference. The power of art to act as a beautiful guide is by no means limited to Stubbs’ animal portraiture. Slyly seeping into the consciousness of humanity, artists’ agendas are often conveyed covertly to the viewer. Figures and subjects are chosen to reinforce common notions, promote political agendas, and even implant seeds of change. While some artists go forth and boldly present their own personal and political viewpoints, I value the genius behind the simple subtlety of Stubbs whispered messages.