George Stubbs

Mother and Child


Not on display

George Stubbs 1724–1806
Enamel on metal
Support: 305 × 305 mm
Frame: 483 × 478 × 40 mm
Presented by Sabin Galleries 1965


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

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Catalogue entry

George Stubbs 1724–1806

T00785 Mother and Child 1774

Inscr. ‘Geo: Stubbs pinxit 1774’ b.c.
Enamel on copper, circular, diam. 12 (30.5).
Presented by the Sabin Galleries Ltd. through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1965.
Coll: Mary Spencer, the artist’s mistress, sold by Peter Coxe at 24 Somerset Street, 27 May 1807 (90); H. E. Backer, sold 1948/9 to Basil Taylor, sold to Arthur Ackermann & Son Ltd. 1960/1; offered anonymously, Sotheby’s, 7 July 1965 (128), bt. in by Manderson; subsequently sold to the Sabin Galleries Ltd.

The Catalogue of Mary Spencer’s sale states that this 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. Stubbs began experimenting with enamel painting in 1771 at the suggestion of Richard Cosway. A companion piece, ‘Hope nursing Love’, dated 1774, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1965–1966, London 1967.

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