George Stubbs (1724 – 1806) is a painter not too well known outside the United Kingdom, but he is quite an institution there thanks to works like this or his famous portrait of the horse Whistlejacket, both paintings preserved as treasures in the National Gallery in London.
The Stubbs Milbanke and Melbourne families
Stubbs was born in the city of Liverpool in a family that had nothing to do with the world of art, since his father worked as a leather tanner, precisely to objects linked to horse riding and hunting. Perhaps that is where his taste for detail came from and later his passion for painting would emerge, which led him to study anatomy, with the intention of being able to dissect horses to get to know them and paint them better.
He also made the obligatory trip to Rome in the middle of the 18th century, and strangely enough, although artists traveled there to discover ancient art and then know how to turn that knowledge into history paintings, the truth is that from Stubbs he was fascinated by a sculpture in which a lion attacks a horse. In other words, he had a true passion for horses and there are many of his paintings in which they appear.
Also this aristocratic tone canvas. Although here is also reflected his idea of painting things as he saw them, without flattering or making fun of them. He wanted to paint thereality. That's his hallmark.
The work is a group portrait very popular at the moment. In fact, these types of scenes where several characters appeared chatting were very common. However, Stubbs forgets to introduce them talking to each other. Among other things because the characters posed for him separately, something logical considering that at first the Milbanke family considered Sir Peniston Lamb, the future Viscount of Melbourne, as an upstart in the upper class, and they were not very clear that he would finally married the young Elizabeth Milbanke. In fact, in the portrait, which was done once they were married, he presents us with the married couple separated. On the one hand, the woman with her father in the carriage, and on the other, her husband entering the scene on horseback. And in the center another member of the Milbanke family. A most curious composition, so much so that even the dog in the lower right corner watches with attention and expectation.
With all these characters the artist has created a continuous frieze, with exquisite care when painting each and every one of the details, from the faces that are true physical and psychological portraits to the clothing or trappings of the mounts. And as a background he has invented a natural landscape that gives him the timely and fashionable atmosphere at the time.