George Stubbs paintings to go on show at Wentworth Woodhouse

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A new exhibition being staged at Rotherham stately home Wentworth Woodhouse from July 30 will feature seven George Stubbs paintings - including four painted there over 260 years ago.

The year was 1762 and George Stubbs had been summoned to the Rotherham stately home by the second Marquess of Rockingham, Charles Watson-Wentworth, to paint several of his prized horses.

One of the grandest country houses in England and a rival to Chatsworth House and Blenheim Palace, it was to be his place of work for almost a year.

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Aged 38, Stubbs was much sought-after for his highly polished, anatomically precise and naturalistic paintings of animals, but this commission would see him produce the most famous and feted artwork of his career.

George Stubbs' Portrait of Scrub in a Landscape with John Singleton Up, 1762. Private collectionGeorge Stubbs' Portrait of Scrub in a Landscape with John Singleton Up, 1762. Private collection
George Stubbs' Portrait of Scrub in a Landscape with John Singleton Up, 1762. Private collection

Among the seven oils on canvas Stubbs created was one he humbly described on his receipt as a ‘larger than life portrait of a horse’.

The portrait, of Watson-Wentworth’s retired racehorse Whistlejacket on an unfigured background unusual for the time, would go on to be described as ‘one of the most important British paintings of the 18th Century’ and now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust is launching a major art exhibition on July 30 to celebrate the 300th birthday of the acclaimed Georgian artist.

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Beneath the Surface: George Stubbs & Contemporary Artists, will run for three months and brings seven world-class Stubbs works to the house, four of which were created during the 1762 Wentworth Woodhouse residency.

Portrait of George Stubbs, 1777, by Ozias Humphry.  Private collectionPortrait of George Stubbs, 1777, by Ozias Humphry.  Private collection
Portrait of George Stubbs, 1777, by Ozias Humphry. Private collection

Mares and Foals with an Unfigured Background, Whistlejacket with the Head Groom and Two Other Principal Stallions, Portrait of Scrub in a Landscape with John Singleton Up and the painting Five of Lord Rockingham’s Stag Hounds in a Landscape are to be loaned from a private collection, along with Stubbs’s acclaimed book of detailed anatomical studies, Anatomy of A Horse, published in 1766.

The exhibition, sited in the mansion’s State Rooms and free to view with a house admission ticket, will also feature Stubbs’ A Monkey, Two Horses Communing in a Landscape and Phillis’ a Pointer of Lord Clermont’s.

Whistlejacket will remain on display at the National Gallery for the public to visit, especially important during the anniversary year. Jen Booth, Exhibitions and Interpretation Manager, said: "This is the Trust’s largest exhibition ever to be produced and typically for us, we are taking a bold stance.

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"Stubbs’ works will be shown with pieces from nine important contemporary artists known for exploring ideas 'beneath the surface’ of their subjects, including Tracey Emin and Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger."

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Taxidermy dogs, a horse cast in glass and a cowgirl on Margate beach will be among the thought-provoking works.

Other contemporary artists whose work features are Sutapa Biswas, Kathleen Herbert, Jochem Hendricks, Jo Longhurst, Melanie Manchot, Ugo Rondinone and Hugo Wilson.

Independent art curator Kate Stoddart commented: “Seen together, we can compare the contemporary and historical work and view conversations which have been going on between artists across the centuries, including the human relationship with animals through the sports of racing, showing and fighting.”

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Studies of letters and documents at Sheffield Archives by the Trust’s team of volunteer researchers means the exhibition will also shed light on Stubbs’ time in Wentworth, the 13-year relationship which developed between the artist and the Marquess and the lives of the servants depicted in two of the paintings. The importance of horse-racing to Rockingham is also explored, alongside St Leger items loaned from Heritage Doncaster.

Victoria Ryves, the Trust’s Head of Culture and Engagement, said: “Beneath The Surface is the most ambitious exhibition we have ever undertaken and it firmly places Wentworth Woodhouse as a cultural hub for the North, an ambition set out in our Cultural Strategy.

“Bringing seven world-class Stubbs paintings from private collections or museums to Rotherham is a real coup for us and we are thrilled that four of them are ‘coming home’. They were painted here, they graced the family’s private rooms for centuries and now they will be on show here to the public for the first time.”

She added: “We are very grateful to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Arts Council England, who arranged the provision of the Government’s Indemnity Scheme for us. Without it, the exhibition would not have been possible.”

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The exhibition also showcases local artistic talent, sharing pieces created by the charity ArtWorks South Yorkshire. The group of adult artists with learning disabilities visited places on the estate where Stubbs most likely stood to paint two of the works on loan and created their own versions, with artist Richard Johnson.

Whistlejacket fans will be pleased to hear that in addition to his portrait replica which has long hung in the mansion, he does make an entrance… He features in Stubbs’ painting of head groom Jos Cobb, wears a unicorn’s horn in Mark Wallinger’s 2001 black and white screenprint Ghost and in Hugo Wilson’s State I is presented irreverently, turning his back on national significance and kicking out at the viewer with its hind legs.

Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, the exhibition will also be accompanied by a vibrant programme of workshops, talks and tours.

Beneath the Surface: George Stubbs & Contemporary Artists Exhibition runs from Tuesday July 30 to Sunday November 3, 10am-5pm. The exhibition is included with a house admission ticket. To book, go to https://wentworthwoodhouse.org.uk/whats-on/beneath-the-surface/

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