GEORGE STUBBS ( 1724-1806) AND DAVID WILKIE ( 1786-1841) A COMPARISON BETWEEN TWO LATE VICTORIAN GENRE PAINTERS DURING THE HEIGHT OF LATE VICTORIAN ART. STUBBS A PAINTER OF ANIMALS PRODUCING A HARMONIOUS SCIENTIFIC OEUVRE , WILKIE A SCOTTISH ARTIST PRODUCING STUDIES OF DOMESTIC SCENES HIGHLIGHTING SOCIAL AND POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS OF THE LATE VICTORIAN PERIOD: PART 1

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In part 1 of my article on George Stubbs and David Wilkie I will be comparing two painters who excelled in Genre pictures . Stubbs concentrated on Animals while Wilkie painted a number of Genre scenes of Working class Life in Scotland and in England.

Andrew Wilton explains in his Five Centuiries of British Painting From Holbein to Hodgkin the importance of Stubbs’s work in Mid Victorian Britain.

” An obvious example of the scientific spirit at work in this period George Stubbs. his reputation was made as a painter of racehorses and other domestic animals”. [1].

” These harmonious structures are underscored by Stubbs’s refined sense of colour , the realistic sheen of his animal’s coats , the soft and silvery perspectives of his landscape backgrounds”. [2].

Wilton shows how Stubbs used Roman sculpture  to depict various animals which he had observed in Rome.

” As if his classical credentials were not evident in every touch of his brush Stubbs lingered long over a theme derived from a Roman sculpture of a horse attacking a Lion”. [3].

” The first great exponent of this genre was a scot David Wilkie who astonished London as a young man in 1806 when he showed his ‘village politicians’ at the academy”. [4].

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Haymakers 1785 by George Stubbs 1724-1806

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Wilton continues to discuss the importance of Wilkie’s genre pictures.

” Wilkie’s genre pictures set the mood of the period. In 1820’s Wilkie visited spain and the art of Velasquez and Murillo radically changed his style. His handling broadened to become more overtly virtuoso , the scale of his fingers increased and he often painted Spanish subjects , Modern or Historical”. [5].

William Vaughan in British painting The Golden Age makes pertinent comments about the Genre pictures of 19th Century artists.

” Ever since the renaissance genre painting has been acknowledged  as a form with its own distinct character. It was a kind of low-life counterpart to History Painting. Genre painting showed ordinary people doing ordinary things”. [6].

” Genre Painting was painted in a natural style – one that dwelled on peculiarity and detail”. [7].

” Genre Painting has often been seen as bourgeois art appealing to the tastes of the self-made man and the hard-pressed professional rather than the idle Aristocratic connoisseur “. [8].

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captain samuel sharpe pocklington with his wife pleasance and his sister frances

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Vaughan now comes on to discuss the attributes of George Stubbs pointing out that he was part of the ‘Rustic Vogue’.

” The animal painter George Stubbs was another artist who tried to profit from the rustic rogue. But he had less success .His fine and meticulously painted depictions of Farm life found little appeal with his contemporaries”. [9].

” When David Wilkie arrived in London in 1806 George Morland (another Artist) had been dead for two years. There was therefore a gap in the rural genre market. His (Wilkie) rural scenes had a great sense of particularity about them, influenced by the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment”. [10].

Vaughan compares Wilkie to painters like John Constable the great Tory Landscape painter but Wilkie I am afraid was never able to be in the same class as Constable although very talented.

” At the time that he painted this picture he was attempting to follow Landscape painters such as Constable in developing a more authentic way of depicting rural life”. [11].

” His Penny wedding as has already been observed gave a far more reassuring image of rural poverty”. [12].

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Sir David Wilkie - Distraining for Rent 1815

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Vaughan shows how Wilkie’ achieved success with ‘Chelsea Pensioners reading the News of the Battle of Waterloo’.

” Wilkie’s greatest success however came  when he was able to repeat his winning formula with a Modern subject set in London ( Chelsea Pensioners Reading The news of the Battle of Waterloo)”. [13].

” Stubbs came from a modest background but one that gave him early acquaintances with Horses- He was largely self-trained and eked out an existence as a travelling portraitist”.[14].

Continuing his commentary on George Stubbs Vaughan shows how his Animal pictures were appreciated by the Aristocratic class.

” Stubbs’s skills were rapidly appreciated by nobleman devoted to racing and Breeding horses. His work is full of wider observations of both animal and Human life”. [15].

” London also gave Stubbs the chance to maintain his intellectual interests. He worked for patrons with a strong scientific bent such as Sir Joseph Banks”. [16].

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Vaughan concludes that Stubbs did not have a very good relationship with the Royal Academy.

” Like other artists who tried to upgrade a minor artistic Genre Stubbs had an uneasy relationship with the Royal Academy”. [17].

” Wilkie could create the impression of rounded characters in real situations suggesting events that had happened beforehand and inviting speculation as to what was to come next”. [18].

This concludes the first part of my discussion on George Stubbs and David Wilkie two Genre Painters in Mid Victorian England. Both of them painted a variety of different subjects in their paintings. In Part 2 I will further explore their artistic talents.

FOOTNOTES

  1. FIVE CENTURIES OF BRITISH PAINTING FROM HOLBEIN TO HODGKIN: ANDREW WILTON.PG.60
  2. DITTO.PG.61
  3. DITTO.PG.87
  4. DITTO.PG.134
  5. DITTO.PG.135
  6. DITTO.PG.152
  7. DITTO.PG.152
  8. DITTO.PG.153
  9. DITTO.PG.154
  10. DITTO.PG.156
  11. DITTO.PG.157
  12. DITTO.PG.158
  13. DITTO.PG.158
  14. DITTO.PG.167
  15. DITTO.PG.169
  16. DITTO.PG.169
  17. DITTO.PG.171
  18. VICTORIAN PAINTING :JULIAN TREUHERZ.PG.17
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