The Anatomy of the HorseSTUBBS, George.
London: J.Purser for the author. 1766 [but 1823].
Oblong broadsheets (439 x 561 mm). Contemporary dark green cross-grain half roan, marbled boards.
First edition of Stubbs's famous work of equine anatomy, exhibiting an accuracy never previously attained by horse painters, 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 1756-9, based on numerous dissections that the artist had performed himself. Once the drawings were finished, Stubbs unsuccessfully attempted to find an engraver (most felt the drawings beyond their competence), and was forced to engraved them himself, transforming himself 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 49 authors prior to Stubbs, only one, the 17th-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, several watermarked 1823, and is without the errata slip, generally found only in the earliest copies.
Provenance: with the ownership inscription, dated 1854, of the English miniature and portrait painter Henry Tanworth Wells RA (1828–1903), who was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite circle though he painted in the academic style.