'Horse Devoured by a Lion', 1769

A lion with its jaw biting into a white lion

The label text for this painting in the exhibition 'George Stubbs: A Celebration' has been written by Jacqueline Ridge, head of paintings conservation, Tate; formerly head of paintings conservation at the Conservation Centre, Liverpool.

"If someone says 'Stubbs' to me, as a conservator, I tend to think 'wax'. He occasionally added wax to his paint in an attempt to make a very stable painting medium. It means that the cleaning process is complicated and the paint behaves very differently to traditional oil paint.

This work is in enamels on copper and it's another example of Stubbs searching for permanence in his materials. These glass-based colours are fired at high temperatures, with the same motive, to create something very stable. He'd have been painting a bit in the dark, because when he applied the glaze colours he couldn't have known for sure how they were going to appear, though we know that at this time an oily-type material was put with the colour to enable him to see more clearly what the final appearance would be.

If you look at it in a raking light, you can see the varying thicknesses of the colours - the background is sloshed on, whereas the lion for example is put on in a very different way, with lots of tiny brushstrokes. Also in raking light you can see the overall undulation in the panel, which is the way the copper panel has been beaten out. Almost any traditional canvas of this period is covered in cracks, but here you have a pristine eighteenth-century colour surface, which is extraordinary."

Further information about this painting

  • Painted by George Stubbs (1724 - 1806)
  • Enamel on copper
  • 24 x 28.5 cm

This painting is from the collections of Tate Britain, London. Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery, 1970.