George Stubbs

A Lion Resting on a Rock

published 1788

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In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

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George Stubbs 1724–1806
Engraving on paper
Image: 227 × 314 mm
Transferred from the British Museum 1984

Display caption

Unlike most of  Stubbs's big cats, the majestic lion shown here is set in what appears to be an attempt at its native environment, with mountainous coastal scenery and exotic palm trees. It was traditionally believed that Stubbs first saw a lion in Ceuta, Morocco, on his return by sea from Italy in around 1756, but this story is now thought to be apocryphal. His accurate observations of the living beasts were more likely to have been made from studying caged lions at the Tower of London and at Lord Shelbourne’s menagerie on Hounslow Heath.

Gallery label, February 2004

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Catalogue entry

T03844 A LION RESTING ON A ROCK published 1788

Engraving, mixed method, 8 7/8 × 12 9/16 (227 × 314) on hand-made wove paper 9 3/8 × 12 7/8 (252 × 326)
Writing-engraving below image ‘Painted Engravd & Published by Geo Stubbs 1 May 1788 No 24 Somerset Str Portman Sq London’; on the back, stamped twice by the British Museum (i) on accession, with no.1874-5-9-170; (ii) on transfer, like T03778
Transferred by the Trustees of the British Museum 1984
Prov: ...; purchased by the British Museum from Mr Francis 1874; transferred to the Tate as a duplicate 1984
Lit: Basil Taylor, The Prints of George Stubbs, 1969, no.7, repr. p.35 from another impression; Richard Godfrey, ‘George Stubbs as a Printmaker’, Print Collector's Newsletter, XIII, no.4, 1982, pp.114–15; Judy Egerton, ‘George Stubbs: Two rediscovered enamel paintings’, Burlington Magazine, CXXVIII, 1986, pp.24–7

Engraved after the enamel painting of 1775, now in a private collection, Switzerland (repr. Egerton, p.26, fig. 31). This is the print entitled ‘a Lion’ in Stubbs's print prospectus of 1778 (see T03778), for which the price was 5s.od.

Godfrey considers that ‘Lion Resting on a Rock’ and ‘Recumbent Leopard by a Tree’ (Taylor 6, repr. p.33) ‘represent the transitional stage’ in Stubbs's printmaking ‘between the two early linear prints’ (‘Horse Frightened by a Lion’, Taylor 1, repr. p.23, and ‘Leopards at Play’, Taylor 2, repr. p.25; a 1974 printing of the latter is no. T01986 in the Tate's collection, together with the copperplate, T01985) ‘and the later more elaborately worked-up tonal engravings. The forms are described by minute perambulation of line, but Stubbs was also beginning to realize the value of tools such as roulettes and mezzotint rockers for working up textural effects. He gives the impression of an artist stooped over a copper plate with a small battery of tools beside him, the function of each being diverted to original and unexpected use as it came to hand’.

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

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