Page 20 - Studio International - July August 1971
P. 20

Boston Museum Elements group show, where   Blake so reviled in his annotations to Reynolds's   life seems relevant today when artists are
    Mr Baker encountered his work, was an     Discourses. Stubbs was in no sense a       looking to nature in new ways,8  and when we
    unsuitable context. The whole economic    revolutionary, but he transcended the conditions   are coming to locate art more in the flux and
    system whereby an artist's oeuvre is scattered   of his patronage, and is a great experimental   reflux of organized consciousness than in the
    geographically is, of course, most suited to those   artist.                         trans-substantiation of materials by genius.
    artists who are devoted to the ideal of the   The excellent exhibition 'Stubbs in the   But science and nature have both become
    masterpiece.                              176os' at Agnew's last November brought    enormously more complicated ideas in the last
       This point can be made most clearly if we   together some of his nine 'mares and foals'   two centuries, and it would be hard for anyone
    consider photography. People often claim that   compositions and other paintings of that decade.   today to recover Stubbs's simplicity while
    a particular photograph is a 'masterpiece', for   The catalogue introduction by Basil Taylor   avoiding sentimentality. q
    instance Stieglitz's The Steerage. But a single    makes a convincing case that the mares and    JONATHAN BENTHALL

                                                                                         George Stubbs
                                                                                         Mares and Foals by a Stream
                                                                                         Oil on canvas
                                                                                         23½ x 39½ in.
                                                                                         Coll: The Duke of Grafton

    photograph may be 'good' by accident.     foals 'express most intensely Stubbs's identity   1I discussed Sonfist's work in the March 1971 issue
    Photography is essentially a cumulative art,   as a painter, for the simple motif could be   of Studio International (`Haacke, Sonfist and Nature').
                                                                                         Since then, he has been working with schooling fish,
    and the great photographers are esteemed, like   treated with great freedom of invention and   army ants, crickets and worms; and has also made a
    Bann's experimental painters, for following a   design?? Taylor compares Stubbs with   proposal for a model ecosystem, on the 84th-Street
    `path of controlled activity'. Such a path   Monet—`both artists are experimenting with   side of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, that
                                                                                         would exhibit the conditions that existed in Central
    reconstructs itself from the Museum of Modern   the visual possibilities of commonplace,   Park before urbanization and the landscaping of the
    Art's latest photographic publication, for   tractable subjects'—but is surely wrong in   park.
    example: a collection of poignant studies by   stating that 'There is no comparable set of   2  See Dore Ashton, Studio International November
                                                                                         1970, on the 'Software' exhibition at the Jewish
    Walker Evans of buildings, poor families,   pictorial variations in English art before the   Museum; and also the exhibition catalogue pp. 22-3.
    commercial graphics, subway travellers.4    twentieth century, and few counterparts in   Negroponte and the MIT Architecture Machine
                                                                                         Group use a colony of gerbils, as Alan Sonfist uses
    Andrew Forge's remark 'Photography is     European painting'. In English art there are
                                                                                         army ants, to symbolize human society. My point is
    essentially an act of choice on the instant; not   Constable's cloud studies; in Dutch   that such analogy, if expressed as a scientific
    the deployment of a language-like convention'5   seventeenth-century art there were many   inference from animal ethology, would be trivial and
    neglects the elements of cumulative experimental   highly individual painters working with nature   even objectionable. In the art context it functions as a
                                                                                         joke or poetic conceit.
     enquiry in art.                          morte, flowers, architectural interiors, etc., in an   3For further comments, see my review, Studio
       If Bann's concept of the artist's work really   `experimental' vein.              International, July/August 5970. The publisher is
                                                                                         Studio Vista.
    cuts across that which has been generally    Stubbs was very close to the science of his
                                                                                         4  Walker Evans, Museum of Modem Art, New York
    accepted, as he claims, one would expect some   age. In 1751, at the age of 25, he engraved   192 pp. There is a characteristically fine and
     major shifts of emphasis to take place. (An   embryological drawings for a book on   understated introduction by John Szarkowski,
                                                                                         5Andrew Forge, 'Reflections on Aaron Scharf's Art
     eventual crash in the odious Times/Sotheby   midwifery; in 1766 he published after years of
                                                                                         and Photography', Studio International, May 1969.
    art index is no doubt too much to hope for.) As   arduous research The Anatomy of the Horse, a   6  See Sir W. Gilbey, Life of George Stubbs R.A.
    soon as one begins to think of an artist like   landmark in veterinary science. Basil Taylor   (London 1898). There is a page on Stubbs in Francis
     Stubbs as 'experimental', his centre of interest   mentions that the mares and foals series aroused   D. Klingender's Art and the Industrial Revolution.
                                                                                         7  Stubbs in the 176os, Thomas Agnew & Sons,
     begins to shift.                         little contemporary interest, and that Stubbs   London.
       George Stubbs is a rather comical case in art   drifted away from the tastes of his sporting   8Alan Sonfist writes 'My art presents nature. I isolate
     history since it is impossible to dissociate his   patrons. His families of mares and foals   certain aspects of nature to gain emphasis, to make
                                                                                         clear its power to affect us and to give the viewer an
     work from the English aristocracy's sensual   represent a tender ideal of communal life, in   awareness that can be translated into a total unravelling
     passion for horses. When one thinks of Stubbs   the context of which any political critique of his   of the cosmos'. He distinguishes this aim from that of
                                                                                         `pollution artists' (e.g. those who dye large expanses
     charging 100 guineas for horse-portraits—at a   image of nature would seem weak.    of water) or 'industrialists' (e.g. those who impose a
     time when Reynolds was getting only 70 for   Stubbs must have been (in the best sense of   scheme of their own on mountains or canyons).
     a three-quarter length human portrait6—and   the word) a simple man. He is said to have gone
     of the agrarian capitalists whose cleared and   to Rome when he was 3o to decide if nature
     walled-in estates he was glorifying in the name   were superior to art, and to have left promptly
     of nature, it is hard not to think of him as one   on deciding that it was. His peculiarly lucid,
     of the 'Gang of Cunning Hired Knaves' whom   rigorous and unstylized enquiry into natural
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