Stubbs' Zebra

Feb. 3, 2018Apr. 30, 2018
Huntington Art Gallery - SPECIAL LOAN

When the British public saw its first zebra in the mid-18th century, the black-and-white striped beast created quite a sensation. A similar degree of excitement is likely to greet the exquisite portrait of that celebrated animal when George Stubbs’ Zebra (exhibited 1763) goes on temporary display at The Huntington. The painting, on loan from the Yale Center for British Art, will be on view Feb. 3 through April 30, 2018, on the second floor of the Huntington Art Gallery.

Zebra is one of the earliest in a series of paintings of exotic animals produced by Stubbs (1724-1806). It depicts a female zebra that was brought from South Africa in 1762 as a gift from the governor for young Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III. Upon arrival in London, the animal was installed in the menagerie at Buckingham House (now known as Buckingham Palace) where she became an instant celebrity. “The Queen’s she-ass,” wrote one observer, “was pestered with visits, and had all her hours employed from morning to night in satisfying the curiosity of the public.”

Stubbs is best known for his paintings of horses, but his grasp of the anatomical differences between zebras and horses is masterly. The physical details in the painting—the backward direction of the ears, the dewlap on the underside of the neck, and the pattern of the striped above the tail—are so exact as to enable the animal to be identified as the smallest of three subspecies, the Cape Mountain zebra. The exotic beast died in 1773; but, thanks to Stubbs’ portrait, her celebrity lives on.

Visitors can see another work by Stubbs, the equine portrait Baronet with Sam Chifney Up (1791), on the first floor of the Huntington Art Gallery, part of the permanent collection.