Art, J. Paul Getty Museum, Paintings

Anatomy of a Horse Painting

Brood Mares and Foals, framed / George Stubbs

Brood Mares and Foals, George Stubbs, 1767. Oil on canvas, 39 1/4 x 74 1/4 in. Anonymous loan

In George Stubbs’s Brood Mares and Foals, which arrived at the Museum in October as a temporary anonymous loan, horses are sympathetically portrayed within the bucolic landscape of the English countryside.

The overriding mood is idyllic, as a small coterie of well-bred mares and foals congregate harmoniously in the placid atmosphere of the stud farm. When standing before the picture, one is equally struck by the easy manner in which the horses occupy the landscape and by the palpable sense of well-being among the mares and foals.

Rather than a starchy presentation of thoroughbred racehorses accompanied by their jockeys and mutually bedecked in the regalia of their collaborative sporting endeavor, these horses have been portrayed free of the accoutrements of “the turf,” in an unbridled state. In the latter regard, Brood Mares and Foals hits a resonant chord with Paulus Potter’s majestic “Piebald” Horse, which hangs in the Museum’s 17th-century Dutch galleries. Though Potter (1625–1654) and Stubbs (1724–1806) were separated in time and place by a century and the North Sea, the common concern for portraying the horse in nature is especially striking in these two pictures.

The Piebald Horse / Paulus Potter

The "Piebald" Horse, Paulus Potter, about 1650–54. Oil on canvas, 19 1/2 x 17 11/16 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 88.PA.87

While Potter’s drawings and paintings demonstrate that he held a keen ability to depict domesticated animals, Stubbs’s pursuit of anatomical verisimilitude in the case of horses would take the concern to a new level. In 1766, after five years of preparing anatomical studies based on first-hand examination of horse cadavers, Stubbs published his Anatomy of the Horse. The artist’s intricate knowledge of every tendon and ligament, every bone and vein, is evident in the persuasive gracefulness with which each animal is captured in Brood Mares and Foals.

To Stubbs’s mind and that of his patrons (i.e., sporting gentlemen, almost uniformly), the gracefulness and dignity of each horse was contingent upon its pedigree. The thoroughbred horse, as all those portrayed were, had resulted from the crossbreeding of Arabian and Turkish (or Barbary) with English or Spanish horses, at the beginning of the 18th century. Though a hierarchy of lineage—taking into account the ancestry of both stallion and mare—quickly developed and was dutifully recorded in the “Stud books,” the common emphasis for all thoroughbred foals, as they developed, was the much-anticipated realization of stamina, lithe and nimble athleticism, handsome looks, and in the case of stallions, reproductive vigor.

Detail of white mare and her foal in Brood Mares and Foals / George Stubbs

Detail of the white mare with a foal in Stubbs's Brood Mares and Foals. Anonymous loan

The preoccupation with well-bred horses in England was principally the domain of well-born gentlemen who could afford to devote their time and money to the turf. About 1760, Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792), London’s preferred painter of the peerage in the third quarter of the 18th century, is thought to have introduced Stubbs to a set of wealthy racehorse owners and breeders; for between 1760 and 1767, the artist received seven aristocratic commissions, of which Brood Mares and Foals forms the last. 

Judy Egerton, the current expert on the artist, adjudged the picture the finest of all such compositions. The fact that it was the only one of the series to be engraved at the time of its completion is perhaps testimony to its ravishing qualities. Moreover, Stubbs’s personal estimation of Brood Mares and Foals must have been considerable, as he selected the work as his only horse picture in the London Society of Artists exhibition of spring 1768.

The first documented owner of the picture, Colonel George Lane Parker (1724–1791), presumably held it in similar esteem, and Brood Mares and Foals would remain within the Parker family after his death and until its sale at auction in December 2010, more than two centuries later.

Though equine pictures had become fashionable in London townhouses by the mid-18th century, their principal—and de rigueur—function to adorn the entry halls of great country houses appears to have been the context in which Brood Mares and Foals hung resplendently in Parker’s Cambridgeshire home.

In the context of the Museum, it is of special note that Colonel Parker, born in the same year as Stubbs himself, was the younger son of George Parker (c. 1697–1764), 2nd Earl of Macclesfield. The colonel resided at Woodbury, Cambridgeshire, the ancestral family seat of Shirburn Castle, Oxfordshire, having passed to his elder brother Thomas when he succeeded to the earldom upon their father’s death. George Parker, after studying at Clare College and Corpus Christi, Cambridge, had toured Italy from 1719 to 1722, where in Florence he commissioned casts from Pietro Cipriani (c. 1680–c. 1745) of the Venus de’ Medici and Dancing Faun. In 2008, the Museum acquired these sculptures.

Venus de' Medici and Dancing Faun / Pietro Cipriani

Venus de' Medici (left) and Dancing Faun (right), Pietro Cipriani, 1722–24. Bronze, 61 1/8 in. high (Venus) and 56 1/2 in. high (Faun). The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008.41.1 and 2008.41.2

While it remains unknown whether Brood Mares and Foals was commissioned by Colonel Parker (as well as whether he bred horses), Egerton has cogently observed that, for the artist’s sporting patrons, “to be content with generalized images [of horses] would have been like hanging portraits of other men’s children on their walls.” They demanded something more personal from the artist. Perhaps, then, Egerton’s salient observation favors the hypothesis that Stubbs was indeed solicited by Colonel Parker to immortalize his own mares and foals, in paint, in the serene surroundings of an idealized farm.

George Stubbs's Brood Mares and Foals as installed in the Getty Center's South Pavilion, Gallery S202

Stubbs's Brood Mares and Foals hangs in the Getty Center's South Pavilion, Gallery S202. At right is Pompeo Batoni's Portrait of John Talbot, later 1st Earl Talbot from the Museum's permanent collection.

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      A Chat with Photographer Tomoko Sawada

      A conversation about Japanese matchmaking traditions, self-portraiture, clothes, and identity.

      When did you start photographing yourself?
      I began making self-portraits when I was 19. It was an assignment for a photography class. I can’t even explain in Japanese why I liked them so much. It was instinctual. It’s as if I knew that this was going to be my style, that this is what I wanted to do. And I’m still doing it because I love the self-portrait, but I don’t know why. 

      What themes are you exploring in your work?
      I’m interested in the relationship between inside and outside. If you wear a sexy dress or if you wear kids clothes or casual clothes, people treat you differently. Even though you are you no matter what you wear. It’s that relationship that makes me think. 

      My new work is from when I was living in New York. When I was in New York, people didn’t think I was Japanese. Sometimes they thought I was Korean or Chines or Mongolian. Even Singaporean. It was funny, when I would go to the Japanese market, they would speak to me in English. When I went to the Korean market, they would speak to me in English again. I don’t seem to look Japanese outside of Japan. I was surprised because I think I look totally Japanese. It’s funny that people’s points of view are totally different.

      Could you talk a little about OMIAI, the series that represents a traditional Japanese matchmaking technique.
      OMIAI is a tradition that is somehow still working today. Usually, there is a matchmaker and photographs are exchanged before meeting. If both sides are interested, they can meet for lunch or dinner accompanied by their parents and steps for marriage proceed from there. In the old days, some people chose their marriage partner just through photographs, without even meeting each other. 

      When OMIAI was exhibited in Japan I saw people making various comments in from of the work. People would say things like, “she looks like a good cook; surely she would prepare delicious meals every day,” or “ this girl could be a perfect bride for my son,” or “I can tell she would not be a good housewife,” or “she’s such a graceful girl; she must be the daughter of a decent family.” Comments like that. 

      What was the process of making that work?
      I gained 10 pounds before I started taking the pictures, and in six months I lost forty pounds, because I wanted to look different in each photo. I wanted to change the way my legs looked. 

      Every weekend I went to the hair salon and put on a kimono. Then I went to the photo studio on the street in Japan. I would take a picture and then change my clothes to western dress. Then I would go to the studio again the next weekend. 

      Did you tell the photographer how you wanted it done?
      I told him I was an artist and wanted to make photographs with him. I told him to think that each weekend new girls would show up to make the OMIAI. I didn’t want him to think of me as the same girl who came every weekend. He understood the concept. 

      We had fun. While he was taking pictures, his wife would tell me how to lose weight. She gave me many tips.

      Tomoko Sawada’s work is on view at the Getty until February 21, 2016 in “The Younger Generation: Contemporary Japanese Photography”


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