'A Monkey' by George Stubbs, 1799
Artist: George Stubbs (1724-1806)
Medium: Oil on panel
Dimensions: 70 x 55.9cm
Accession number: WAG 2386
Stubb's painting strikes a slightly fearful, almost anthropomorphic note in the rather guilty look of the monkey about to pluck or steal a peach from the branch.
Natural historians suggest that the monkey is either a rather ill-looking rhesus monkey or a crab-eating macaque from South East Asia. If the latter is true, then the diet of peaches is inaccurate.
Two versions of this painting exist, both on mahogany panels, both the same size and both virtually identical in composition. The first was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1775, and is now in a private collection. This second version was completed about a quarter of a century later, probably transcribed from the original.
During the 1770s when the first version was painted, Stubbs was commissioned by Dr William Hunter, Dr John Hunter and Sir Thomas Banks to paint a number of exotic and rare foreign animal portraits. The Hunter brothers were both comparative anatomists, who used Stubbs's pictures as illustrative visual aids in their lectures. Banks was president of the Royal Society, with an abiding interest in natural history. Although the monkey is very much the sort of picture Stubbs was doing for Banks and the Hunters, to date there is no evidence to suggest a link between the earlier version and these scholarly patrons.
One of the two versions remained in Stubbs's possession and was sold at his studio sale. In his seventies Stubbs's own interest in comparative anatomy was revived, when he planned to publish an illustrated comparison between the structure of man, fowls and the tiger. The venture was possibly also to be extended to include much more of the animal kingdom. The date of the picture suggests a possible connection with this subject.
Find out more about George Stubbs.