We are very grateful to Mrs Judy Egerton for providing us with the following entry:
As well as painting well-bred racehorses and stallions, Stubbs painted many wild animals. He was able to study animals such as the lion, tiger and zebra in captivity, in public and private menageries. From such studies, he evolved a series of romantic subjects in which he imagined animals living in the wild, in a state of nature. In this state, encounters between animals such as the lion and horse, or lion and stag, are naturally savage, and only the stronger animal survives.
Stubbs's representations of a lion and lioness, living as natural partners in the safety of a cave, are by contrast peaceable. In this painting, the lioness reclines within a cave, while the lion, her mate, stands guarding its wide mouth; and Stubbs could have seen and explored such caves in Derbyshire. This is the only known version of this subject.
The lioness appears in the same attitude, without the lion and instead confronting a startled white horse, in an engraving entitled The Horse and Lioness, made by Benjamin Green as the sixth in a set of six prints after Stubbs, and published in 1774 (C. Lennox-Boyd, R. Dixon, and T. Clayton, George Stubbs: The Complete Engraved Works, London, 1989, p. 142, no. 37). The combination of the lioness with the startled white horse (itself one of Stubbs's best known images) creates an improbable drama in which a horse actually enters the interior of a cave, there to recoil in terror at the sight of a recumbent lioness. Lettering on the engraving states that the engraving was made from a painting dated 1771 in the collection of William Wildman, who owned some of Stubbs's finest works; but although a painting called The Frightened Horse and Lioness was in Wildman's sale in 1787, it is now untraced, and the only painted versions which survive appear to be copies probably made after the engraving. Print publishers were well aware that engravings after Stubbs's wild animal subjects were much in demand, both in England and abroad.
In a different treatment of the 'Lion and Lioness' theme, Stubbs depicts the couple in a dark cave, the lioness recumbent but alert in the foreground, the lion half-asleep behind her. The best-known painted version of this subject, dated 1771, is in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; and it was probably from that painting that George Townly Stubbs made an engraving, published the same year. Other 'lion and lioness' paintings - either with a second lion in the background, or showing the lioness with open jaws - were engraved later in the 1770s. It has not yet proved possible to determine which of all these was the picture in the Stubbs studio sale in 1807.