My favourite painting: Anthony Mould

The art dealer Anthony Mould chooses a rarity: a human portrait by Stubbs.

Anthony Mould on ‘James Stanley’ by George Stubbs

‘James Stanley was painted in Liverpool by a then little known, if rising, young George Stubbs, during the Christmas period of 1755, soon after returning from his only tour of Italy. The sitter’s porcine features are not flattered, but his stout character reaches across time, and both the anatomical and the chromatic analysis here is surprisingly masterly.

‘Even in a remote commercial town, Stubbs has fascinatingly transmogrified some of the sterner lessons of Velázquez, whose earlier work in portraiture he had surely just seen in Italy, into a thoroughly modern depiction that stands any test of its confident line. Ormskirk is where the sitter still lies buried and I have visited the church.

‘It is intriguingly possible to posit that Stubbs may have recently re-met his neighbour Stanley in a café in Rome and that the sitting and the friendship was perhaps not quite so provincial after all.’

Anthony Mould is a fine-art dealer and the founder of his eponymous gallery.

Charlotte Mullins comments on James Stanley

George Stubbs is best known today as an exceptional animal painter. In 1766, he published The Anatomy of the Horse, based on his own dissections carried out at a farmhouse in Horkstow, Lincolnshire, and he subsequently had a successful career painting the aristocracy’s horses and hounds. Less well known are the 15 years he spent before this as a portrait artist in the North of England.

Stubbs was largely self-taught. He worked for his father, a currier, until he was 16 and was briefly apprenticed to a local painter, but soon struck out on his own. Predominantly a portrait artist, he also assisted in the dissection of a pregnant woman who had died at full term for Dr John Burton’s Essay towards a Complete New System of Midwifery, published in 1751. Stubbs created 18 etchings of her skeleton and reproductive organs for the publication, teaching himself how to engrave plates in the process.

This painting of James Stanley, third son of Thomas Stanley of Cross Hall in Lathom, Lancashire, dates from 1755, four years after the midwifery publication and a year before Stubbs turned to horses. Stanley looks down at us with gentle eyes, his corpulent face and white stock illuminated, as his hair and jacket fall into shadow.

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It is the earliest painting by Stubbs that can be securely dated—despite working across the North, from his hometown of Liverpool to Wigan, Leeds and Hull, only three paintings can be confidently attributed to him from the 1740s and 1750s.

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