This intriguing drawing relates closely to Stubbs' oil painting A draught-horse pulling a harrow, driven on by a farm labourer, signed and dated 1786 (see J. Egerton, George Stubbs Painter, New Haven and London, 2007, p. 478, no. 253). It seems likely that it was purchased by the artist James Ward, R.A. at the studio sale of Stubbs' works, possibly lot 30 'one drawing of four horses legs'. Ward is known to have attended Stubbs' sale, as he records in his account book a debt to one of his most important patrons, the sugar merchant Thomas Garle (1748-1831) of £14 as 'cash lent at Stubbs sale'. It is not known what Ward purchased at the sale but Edward Nygren has suggested that Ward may have spent more than the sum borrowed from Garle. Lot 30 comprised what may be the present drawing and also '2 Academy Figures' , We know that Ward certainly owned at least one other drawing by Stubbs, described as an 'Anatomical figure', as it was sold along with his own drawings at Phillips on 4 April 1835. Ward is also known to have copied and restored works by Stubbs too.
Drawings by Stubbs are very rare and despite the interesting provenance of the present work, the disappearance of the majority of Stubbs' drawings is a mystery and a source of consternation with regard to the attribution of drawings to the artist. It is estimated that about 575 drawings were sold as part of the artist's studio, yet these remain untraced. Those that do survive include 42 drawings for The Anatomy of the Horse (Royal Academy, London) and 126 drawings for A Comparative Anatomical Exposition (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven). The drawing of Lemurs (British Museum, London) was commissioned by Sir Joseph Banks and a drawing of A foxhound on the Scent, engraved 1788, was sold in these Rooms, 19 November 1968, lot 25, The Foxhound was taken from The Charlton Hunt which Stubbs had painted twenty-eight years earlier.
The depiction of the draught-horse's legs is carefully and sensitively done, however the intended purpose of the present work is not known; it is not squared and is smaller in scale than the painting to which it relates. Although its intended purpose was clearly different to the other known drawings, it is interesting to note that there are some stylistic similarities, such as the technique of using small diagonal hatching for the shadows under the horse's feet which is very similar to the that used in The Anatomy of the Horse drawings. The appearance of this drawing could provide an intriguing addition to the artist's oeuvre.
We are grateful to Edward Nygren for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.