George Stubbs

Leopards at Play


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Not on display

George Stubbs 1724–1806
Copper plate
Object: 381 × 483 mm
Purchased 1975

Catalogue entry


Writing-engraving (in reverse): ‘TYGERS at PLAY’. at centre, ‘Painted and Engraved by George Stubbs.’ at left and ‘Published as the Act directs, 25 Feb. 1780, by Geo. Stubbs. London’. at bottom centre
Copper-plate, 15×19 (38.1×48.2)
Purchased from Miss Beryl Pomeroy (Gytha Trust) 1975
Coll: by descent from the artist to his mistress Mary Spencer and presumably in her sale, Phillips 30 April 1817 (no catalogue has been found but the sale was advertised in The Morning Post, 29 April 1817, as including ‘the original copperplates of this great master’);...; acquired by the London plate-printing firm of Thomas Ross and Son at an unknown date, probably in the late nineteenth century; by descent to Miss Beryl Pomeroy, a partner in the firm
Lit: L. Parris, George Stubbs A.R.A., ‘Leopards at Play’ and ‘The Spanish Pointer’, An illustrated Commentary and Notes, 1974.

T01985 is the original copper-plate, etched and engraved by Stubbs, of his ‘Leopards at Play’, or ‘Tygers at Play’ as he mysteriously titled it. Published in 1780, this was the second of his separately issued plates, following the ‘Horse frightened by a Lion’ of 1777 and preceding the great series of twelve prints which appeared in 1788. In the latter year Stubbs published an advertisement (reprinted in Basil Taylor, The Prints of George Stubbs, 1969, pp.8–9) in which the ‘Tygers’ plate was described as a companion to the 1777 horse and lion print, each being priced at 7s. 6d. No other reference to it during his lifetime is known and, as with Stubbs' other prints, there seems to have been little contemporary demand. The copper-plate was certainly in very good condition when discovered on the premises of Thomas Ross and Son in 1970. T01986 below is one of the impressions taken from the plate in 1974–5 and published in a limited edition by the John Boydell Press.

No satisfactory explanation has been found for the title Stubbs gave to the print, which clearly depicts leopards, not tigers. Two other prints of, or including, leopards, and one showing a cheetah, are also said to represent ‘tygers’ in his 1788 advertisement. Few knew better than Stubbs the differences between these animals, and the public he presumably had in mind would also have been reasonably well-attuned to the basic distinctions (see Parris, op. cit., for more detailed discussion of this and other problems raised by Stubbs' prints).

The following painted versions of the composition are known: 1. Private Collection, 40×50 inches, repr. Basil Taylor, Stubbs, 1971, pl.39; this shows the animals in an open rocky landscape; 2. Collection The Earl of Yarborough, 38×53 5/8 inches, signed and dated 1779; this and nos. 3–4 below show the animals at closer range in an enclosed cave-like setting, as in the print, but no. 2 differs from the other paintings and from the print in the disposition of the foremost leopard's tail and hind legs; 3. Collection The Earl Fitzwilliam, 54×71 1/2 inches, repr. Parris, op. cit., p.10; this appears to be the version closest to the print and it was almost certainly the ‘Two Leopards over the Chimney piece’ mentioned in the 1782 inventory of the Marquis of Rockingham's collection in Grosvenor Square (see H. F. Constantine, ‘Lord Rockingham and Stubbs; Some New Documents’ in Burlington Magazine, XCV, 1953, p.237); 4. Formerly Collection The Hon. Nicholas Villiers, 35×52 1/2 inches; a very worn picture and, if originally by Stubbs, much altered. At the R.A. in 1776 Stubbs exhibited a ‘Tygers at play’. It is not known which, if any, of the above paintings this was.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978

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