This piece is one of Stubbs's numerous experiments in painting with enamel. The sitter is thought to be Stubbs's mistress, Mary Spencer. She was his constant companion for forty years, although contemporary accounts describe her as a female relation or friend. The infant may be their son George Townley Stubbs, but as he was born in 1756 the picture could not have been painted from life.

The work was in Mary Spencer's possession at the time of her death. She was probably also the model for the companion piece, Hope Nursing Love, 1774 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London). The catalogue of the sale of her estate says that Mother and Child is a version of a larger painting of the same subject, presumably the Mother with her Infant asleep, no.64 on the same day of the sale (1807).

Stubbs's earliest known experiment in painting in enamel colours was the 1769 Horse Attacked by a Lion (Tate Gallery T01192). He subsequently produced numerous pieces in the medium. Stubbs spent two years studying the chemical changes to colours under high temperatures, and a further three years improving the support upon which the painting would be made. He used a copper plate support for this work, but was dissatisfied with the size limitations, and in the mid-1770s commissioned the master potter Josiah Wedgwood to produce special large ceramic tablets.

Further reading:
Bruce Tattersall, Stubbs & Wedgwood: Unique Alliance between Artist and Potter, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1974, pp.44-5, reproduced

Terry Riggs
December 1997