Not much is documented about the early life of George Stubbs. He was born in Liverpool, in the northwest county of Lancashire, England in August 1724. Mary and John were his parents, and his father was a specialist in processing leather - a trade he taught Stubbs. The rare amount of information about Stubbs' life until his mid-thirties is based on Ozias Humphry’s informal notes, based on conversations he had with his friend. Around the early age of fifteen, Stubbs knew he wished to work as an artist, a decision that didn’t please his father. After some time, John agreed to help his son follow his own choice in career and encouraged him to find an exquisite teacher. In 1741, Stubbs’ father passed away but left his blessing so his son could follow his path in art. Enthusiastic about delving into the art world, Stubbs learned under Hamlet Winstanley for a brief period, an artist from Lancashire. Although he had access to study the masterpieces of the Knowsley Hall, he came in conflict with his mentor and decided to follow his path as a self-taught artist.
His childhood fascination with anatomy leads him to study the subject more profoundly. He moved North in York in 1744, and a year later he began working as a portrait painter. With the help of Charles Atkinson, he was able to study human anatomy at the County Hospital.
In 1754, Stubbs took a trip to Italy, where he saw the Classic Greek and Roman art. Years later, he stated that after this trip he was convinced that nature will always be superior to art. The artist was passionate about animal anatomy as well, especially horses. He spent about 18 months in a farmhouse he rented in the village of Horkstow dissecting and studying horses, in 1756. The illustrations produced during this period are now owned by the Royal Academy. During this time, he was assisted by his partner, Mary Spencer. Ten years later, while living in London, Stubbs published the fruits of his labor; The Anatomy of the Horse.
Stubbs’s work was praised by influential aristocrats, who were his patrons even before he published his book. In fact, the 3rd Duke of Richmond was already his patron since 1759, and throughout the years he was fortunate to have his excellence in painting recognized by many other dukes, lords, and members of the nobility. With his success, he was able to purchase a home in Marylebone, London. Stubbs’ son, born in 1756, George Townley Stubbs, also became an artist, specializing in printmaking.
One of Stubbs’ most famous artwork is entitled Whistlejacket and emphasizes the artist’s domain of animal anatomy, as he represented a racehorse in motion. This piece can be seen at the National Gallery in London. The British artist had a large task at hand during the end of his life, which he began in 1795. He was producing a series of engravings comparing the anatomy of various species, like the human body, the tiger, and the fowl. Unfortunately, Stubbs passed away on July 1806, before concluding the series. He passed at the age of 81 in London.