Monday 25 August 2014

The Kongouro from New Holland

George Stubbs (Liverpool, England, 25th August 1724 – London, England, 10th July 1806)

Today marks the anniversary of the birth of George Stubbs, a most remarkable artist known primarily for his equestrian portraits and depictions of the natural world. I have previously told the story of his life and today have decided to focus on one of his paintings, The Kongouro from New Holland.

The Kongouro from New Holland by George Stubbs, 1772

The 1772 oil painting was commissioned by the naturalist Joseph Banks, and when Stubbs set about the work, he had never seen a live kangaroo. Noted for his exceptional attention to anatomical detail when painting animals, Stubbs had only eyewitness accounts and an inflated, preserved kangaroo skin owned by Banks on which to base his depiction. It was to be the first time this most unusual animal was depicted in western art and the painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1773 alongside another work by Stubbs, Portrait of a Large Dog, a depiction of a dingo.

Clearly the kangaroo painted by Stubbs is not as perfectly drawn as his equestrian work but it must be said that it is a remarkable work given that he had never actually seen a kangaroo in any form other than inflated skin. It was brought by Banks and passed along his descendants until 2012 when it was sold, alongside Portrait of a Large Dog, to an Australian buyer. However, after a campaign to keep the painting in England, it was agreed that the paintings would remain at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, for now at least.


Unknown said...

So the painting's background landscape must be entirely based on what Stubbs heard from Banks about Australia. Whatever its likeness-to-life (or lack of it) it certainly gives the animal an attractive setting.

Catherine Curzon said...

It does; his kangaroo certainly looks at home there.

Mark said...

Now "An inflated, preserved kangaroo skin" is a very chilling phrase to mentally conjure with.

Catherine Curzon said...

It sounds like the start of a horror story!