George Stubbs

A Horse Attacked by a Lion (A Lion Devouring a Horse)

published 1788

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
George Stubbs 1724–1806
Etching on paper
Image: 250 × 335 mm
Transferred from the British Museum 1984

Display caption

In 1769, Benjamin Green had engraved and published a mezzotint version of this subject, simply entitled The Lion and Horse. Green’s print and this later soft-ground etching by Stubbs both show the third episode in Stubbs’s narrative: when the lion has leapt on to the horse’s back and sunk its teeth into its withers. However, the landscape background in this print is quite different from the earlier one. It is thought to be based on an unlocated enamel, although the composition is also close to the Tate enamel, shown to the right.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry


Engraving, mixed method, 9 13/16 × 13 3/16 (250 × 335) on hand-made wove paper 11 3/16 × 15 (284 × 380); plate-mark 10 7/8 × 13 15/16 (277 × 355)
Writing-engraving below image ‘Painted, Engrav'd & Publish'd by Geo. Stubbs, 1788, No. 24 Somerset Str. Portman Sq. London.’; on the back, stamped twice by the British Museum (i) on accession, with no.1931-12-24-3; (ii) on transfer, like T 03778
Transferred by the Trustees of the British Museum 1984
Prov: ...; presented to the British Museum by C.H. Sykes 1931; transferred to the Tate as a duplicate 1984
Lit: Basil Taylor, ‘George Stubbs: “The Lion and Horse” Theme’, Burlington Magazine, CVII, 1965, pp.81–6, Appendix p.86, no.14; Basil Taylor, The Prints of George Stubbs, 1969, no.4, repr. p.28 from another impression; Richard Godfrey, ‘George Stubbs as a Printmaker’, Print Collector's Newsletter, XIII, no.4, 1982, p.115, repr.

In Stubbs's print prospectus of 1788 (see T03778), this print was advertised as ‘A Lion devouring a Horse’, price 5s.od. (In the hope of avoiding confusion between Stubbs's various treatments of the ‘Lion and Horse theme’, in which four different episodes can be distinguished, the Tate's painted version of this subject (T01192) is so far known as ‘Horse Attacked by a Lion’, the phrase ‘devouring’ or ‘devoured by’ being reserved for Stubbs's one known version of the final episode (also in the Tate, T02058) in which the horse is forced to the ground; but the titles need further sorting-out to be consistent with Stubbs's own usage).

After Stubbs's death, this print was reproduced as a line engraving by William Nicholls for publication in the Sporting Magazine, July 1808, facing the title-page; the Editor noted (p.115) that the engraving was ‘from a fine enamel picture in possession of Mr Stubbs's executrix’ (Mary Spencer). No enamel to which Stubbs's print exactly corresponds is now known; since Stubbs is usually faithful to all or most details in translating his paintings into prints, it seems reasonable to hope that one may be discovered. The poses of the horse and lion in the print are almost identical to those in one of Stubbs's earliest versions of the theme, the very large ‘Horse Attacked by a Lion’ of c. 1762, painted for the Marquess of Rockingham and now in the Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection (repr. Godfrey, p.115, above his illustration of the print), though the angle of the lion's upflung tail and the landscape foreground and background are different. The Tate's enamel painting of ‘Lion Attacking a Horse’ of 1769 (T01192) is octagonal in shape; the horse is in the same pose as in the print, but there are differences in the position of the lion's paws, its tail is curled behind it, and the landscape foreground and background are different.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986


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