George Stubbs
Portrait of a Young Gentleman Out Shooting 1781

Artwork details

George Stubbs 1724–1806
Portrait of a Young Gentleman Out Shooting
Date 1781
Medium Enamel paint on Wedgwood biscuit earthenware
Dimensions Support: 457 x 622 mm
Acquisition Purchased with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund and the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1988
Not on display


In the late 1760s, with his reputation as a painter of animal and country subjects at its height, Stubbs began experimenting with painting in enamel. This was the first time an artist of Stubbs's stature used the technique, which was previously limited to decorative objects and miniature portraits. His biographer Basil Taylor writes that Stubbs's enamel paintings are
certainly a sign, if not wholly a product, of his serious and experimental curiosity. That they are also the product not only of an intense relationship with the visible world, like the rest of his painting, but of a contest with the mysteries of chemistry and the hardly biddable force of fire gives them their unique fascination and particularity among the works of the 18th century. (Stubbs & Wedgwood, 1974, p.13)
Stubbs spent two years studying the chemical changes colours underwent when fired under high temperatures, and a further three years improving the support upon which the painting would be made. His early efforts were produced on copper (Tate Gallery T01192) but, displeased with the size limitations of the copper plate support, he approached the master potter Josiah Wedgwood to produce special ceramic tablets. In 1775 Wedgwood began preparing the first of the large biscuit tablets (up to thirty by forty inches) that were to serve as Stubbs's 'canvases'. Not entirely successful in practical terms, the venture nonetheless resulted in a series of remarkable works, of which this is one of the most attractive survivors. At eighteen by twenty-four and a half inches, it is a moderately-sized example. Unusually for Stubbs's enamels, it is not a version of a previously painted oil. Only about thirty examples of Stubbs's enamel painting survive.

Stubbs here reinterprets with particular grace and delicacy a standard type of sporting portrait. A country squire out for a day's shooting on his estate loads his gun, his arm upraised to guide the ramrod down the barrel. The picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1782, as a pendant to Isabella Saltonstall in the Character of Una (1782, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge). The sitter is presumed to be 'a young Gentleman (William (?) Huth Esqr) son of a Gentleman Farmer' which Ozias Humphry notes in his Stubbs memoirs as 'painted on Enamel from Nature'. Nothing further is known of the sitter.

Further reading:
Bruce Tattersall (ed.), Stubbs & Wedgwood: Unique alliance between Artist and Potter, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery 1974, reproduced p.81
Judy Egerton, George Stubbs 1724-1806, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery 1984, reprinted 1996, p.162, reproduced in colour

Terry Riggs
October 1997