STUBBS, George (1724-1806). The Anatomy of the Horse. London: J. Purser for the author, '1766' [plates watermarked 1815].
Oblong broadsheets (426 x 543mm). 24 etched plates by and after Stubbs, including 6 key plates bound facing the relevant plates. (Occasional light marking, some light spotting and offsetting.) Contemporary half green-stained vellum over marbled boards, gilt morocco lettering-piece on upper board (lightly marked, a little rubbed and bumped). Provenance: Their Royal Highnesses Prince and Princess Michael of Kent (bookplate).
FIRST EDITION. A WORK THAT 'HAS BOTH SCIENTIFIC AND ARTISTIC IMPORTANCE, AND ... ENJOYS WITH THE WORKS OF VESALIUS AND ALBINUS, AN ESTEEM FAR BEYOND THE SPECIAL AREA OF LEARNING FOR WHICH IT WAS DESIGNED' (Doherty, quoted by Norman). Stubbs's drawings for the plates were executed between 1756 and 1759, and were based on numerous dissections that the artist had performed himself. Once the drawings were finished, Stubbs unsuccessfully attempted to find an engraver (many engravers felt that the subjects of the plates fell beyond their knowledge), and was forced to engrave them himself, thus effecting his transformation from an engraver of limited ability to one of great skill. The plates were prepared in the following six years and, once the work was published, had the important effect of causing him 'henceforth to be regarded primarily as an animal painter, whereas his previous provincial reputation had been based on portraits' (Lennox-Boyd). The work itself 'remained the standard authority on its subject for nearly a century. It marked a major advance in the study of equine anatomy, and Gilbey, who calculated that out of forty-nine authors prior to George Stubbs, only one, the seventeenth-century English farrier Andrew Snape, had produced a study that compared with the "exhaustive description" of The Anatomy of the Horse, maintained that "if he [Stubbs] had never painted a picture, [this] stands as his monument"' (Lennox-Boyd).
The text was probably printed at the time of publication, but the plates appear to have been printed on demand as copies were sold, and copies with plates watermarked with dates from 1798 to 1827 are known; Lennox-Boyd notes that 'in copies ... issued in 1766, and in most of those sold in Stubbs's lifetime, both the letterpress and the plates were printed on laid paper', and in later copies the plates were printed on wove paper. This copy has plates on wove paper watermarked 1815, and is without the errata slip, which is generally only found in early-issue copies. Brunet V, 571; Dingley Comben 600 (later issue, plates watermarked 1823); Eales Cole ... 1472-1800 1840; ESTC T147211; Garrison and Morton 308.1; Lennox-Boyd Stubbs 165-188; Mellon Books on the Horse and Horsemanship 57; Nissen ZBI 4027; Norman 2032 (later issue, plates watermarked 1798).