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Technical examination of 'Molly Longlegs' by George Stubbs

Walker Art Gallery collection

Accession number WAG 2389

painting of a jockey standing in front of a race horse

'Molly Longlegs' by George Stubbs

A technical examination was made of this painting before the exhibition George Stubbs: A Celebration in 2006.

The painting and its materials are characteristic of 18th century British painting of this period and of Stubbs' solid technique during the 1760s.

Very few preparatory drawings by Stubbs survive and with no day book or diary (as we have for Gainsborough and Reynolds) close examination of the paintings is the only way to understand his painting practice. Infra-red reflectography shows no evidence of underdrawing and close examination of the surface of the painting shows no incised line or squaring up as might be expected of a painter who excelled in accurate and detailed representations. There is no indication of how the image was laid out on the canvas although it was undoubtedly not drawn freehand. It is possible that the medium Stubbs used in the preliminary drawing of his composition is just not visible in IR. A squared-up drawing (Paul Mellon Collection) for the enamel 'Self-Portrait' in the National Portrait Gallery confirms that he did use detailed drawings for the production of at least some of the completed works.

The paint medium has been identified as predominantly drying oil but with a small addition of pine resin plus an unidentified non-drying oil or fat. Even at this relatively early stage in his career it seems that Stubbs was experimenting with his paint medium, although there is no sign of the treacherous beeswax which was to dominate his paint medium from the 1770s onwards and remain soluble 200 years later.

Follow the links below to find out more about some of the details of the painting.