The Lion and Stag is an important rediscovery, not having been recorded since it was sold in the artist's studio sale the year after his death.
Stubbs experimented with his techniques and worked in enamels quite frequently - indeed twenty-one other lots in the two-day studio sale consisted of, or included, works in this medium. Particularly fine enamels to have come to auction in recent years include Portrait of Warren Hastings (Christies's, lot 67, 23 June 1978, sold £170,000), Labourers (Christie's, lot 147, 23 June 1978, sold £300,000, now in the Paul Mellon Collection, Virginia), and Stallions Fighting (Christie's, lot 10, 17 November 1989, sold £450,000), although these examples are all larger, later works executed on Wedgwood biscuit earthenware. Stubbs' principle aim seems to have been to create works whose condition would remain stable, although he may also have sought to achieve a brilliance and definition beyond that attainable through the use of oils. His later preferance for ceramic supports, provided by the manufacturer Josiah Wedgwood, seems to have stemmed from the size constraint then inherant in the use of copper.
The curve of the copper support of the painted enamel allows only a glimpse of the upper part of the stag's legs outstretched beneath the lion's claws. The rectangular format of the engraving by the artist's son, George Townly Stubbs (in reverse direction, published 24 July 1770, see C. Lennox-Boyd, R. Dixon, T. Clayton, op. cit., pp. 102-3, no. 15.), demanded additional detail in four corners. In the first state of the engraving (before the addition of the publication line), the stag's legs have been extended almost to its hooves, to rather wooden effect; in the second state, the stag's flank has been more convincingly enlarged, and its legs concealed by the addition of a foreground mound of earth from which broad-leaved plants and grasses grow. The addition of similar foreground plants to the other corner and the extension of the rocky cavern into the upper corner complete the rectangular format of the engraving.
The subject of the present enamel may be seen to relate to Stubbs' famous 'Lion and Horse' theme, with which he became preoccupied in the early 1760s and to which he returned many times over the next thirty years. The only other known treatment of this subject by Stubbs is, like the present work, recorded in a print of 1770 (see C. Lennox-Boyd, R. Dixon, T. Clayton, op. cit., pp. 86-7, no. 9). Interestingly, the source of this other version remains unlocated, which makes the present rediscovery all the more significant.