Stubbs was an English painter, best known for his paintings of horses. Stubbs worked at his father’s trade until the age of 15 or 16, at which point he told his father that he wished to become a painter. Initially resistant, Stubbs’s father (who died not long after, in 1741), eventually acquiesced in his son’s choice of a career path, on the condition that he could find an appropriate mentor. Stubbs subsequently approached the Lancashire painter and engraver Hamlet Winstanley, and was briefly engaged by him in a sort of apprenticeship relationship, probably not more than several weeks in duration.
Thereafter as an artist he was self-taught. He had had a passion for anatomy from his childhood, in or around 1744, he moved to York, in the North of England, to pursue his ambition to study the subject under experts. In York, from 1745 to 1753, he worked as a portrait painter, and studied human anatomy under the surgeon Charles Atkinson, at York County Hospital.
His most famous work is probably Whistlejacket, a painting of a prancing horse commissioned by the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, which is now in the National Gallery in London.
Stubbs also painted more exotic animals including lions, tigers, giraffes, monkeys, and rhinoceroses, which he was able to observe in private menageries. His painting of a kangaroo was the first glimpse of this animal for many 18th-century Britons. He became preoccupied with the theme of a wild horse threatened by a lion and produced several variations on this theme.
His last project, begun in 1795, was a comparative anatomical exposition of the structure of the human body with that of a tiger and a common fowl, fifteen engravings from which appeared between 1804 and 1806. The project was left unfinished upon Stubbs’s death at the age of 81 on 10 July 1806, in London.