'The Lincolnshire Ox', George Stubbs, 1790
Artist: George Stubbs (1724 - 1806)
Medium: Oil on panel
67.9 x 99cm
Accession number: WAG 2388
The Lincolnshire Ox was a prize Hereford bred at Gedney in Lincolnshire by John Bough in November 1782 and owned by John Gibbons of Long Sutton, Lincolnshire. Having grown to an enormous size by being fed solely on grass, the ox was taken to London where it was on show to paying spectators from February 1790 until it was slaughtered in April 1791. A handbill advertising the ox at the Lyceum stated:
'This uncommon Animal was bred at GEDNEY, in the county of LINCOLN, in November 1782, and fed (without oil-cake) by Mr JOHN GIBBONs of Long Sutton, in the said county: all judges agree, that he is much the LARGEST and FATTEST ever seen in England; being 19 hands high, and 3 feet 4 inches across the hips; his beef and tallow are computed to weigh 2800lb. -He is so remarkably docile, that great numbers of Ladies view him every day.'
The curiosity shown in the ox was typical of the contemporary interest in agricultural improvements. Even though the Lincolnshire Ox was an exceptional animal, its weight of overe a ton was a dramatic impprovement on the average 400lb meat yield of cattle a century before. It was living proof of breeding progress.
In the capital the ox was shown both at the Lyceum in the Strand and briefly at the Duke of Gloucester's riding stables in Hyde Park. This royal interest earned it the title 'The Royal Lincolnshire Ox'. Even after the ox was sold for slaughter the purchasers continued to exhibit parts of the beast.
Mr Gibbons commissioned Stubbs to paint the ox in March 1790. The portrait includes the ox's owner and a fighting cock, which was probably owned by Mr Gibbons and won him the ox in a cockfight with side wagers.
George Townly Stubbs engraved the print of the painting, which sold approximately 500 copies at half a guinea a print. Among the names on the subscription list are members of the royal family, the Duke of Orleans and several members of the British aristocracy.