Getting out and about again
The lockdown has been eased a lot quicker in NL than in the UK. Hairdressers, restaurants, cafes, some museums and non-essential shops opened on 1st June. So it was with some excitement that Frank and I headed to The Hague to see the Stubbs exhibition in het Mauritshuis last week. I booked a slot for 2pm and as we arrived early spent some time looking at the building which houses the seat of government next to the museum.
It had been something of a trial cycling through the busy and noisy city (We parked on the outskirts of town with bikes in the back.) But once inside the museum an oasis of tranquility embraced us. We were the only customers in the cafe and it felt slightly surreal to order food (chocolate and carrot cake) and sit down and be served by someone. It was the first time we had done that in months!
The George Stubbs exhibition comprises 13 paintings and 10 anatomical drawings of horses within one exhibition space. Although Stubbs is recognised as one of the most important painters of the eighteenth century in Britain, he is relatively unknown in the Netherlands and it is the first time his paintings have been shown here. Stubbs is most famous for his equestrian work but he also painted other animals such as dogs and even a kangaroo!
The life-size portrait of Whistlejacket really steals the show, dominating the room with its presence. The story goes that when Whistlejacket saw his portrait he acted as if encountering another stallion, snorting and pawing the ground with macho bravado. The owner purportedly told Stubbs he didn’t need to add a background to the painting because it had convinced the horse of its life-likeness and that was good enough for him.
Stubbs, the obsessive
In 1756 Stubbs moved into a farmhouse in a village in Lincolnshire. During an eighteen- month period he dissected 12 horses and made detailed drawings as he worked. He was particularly interested in the skeletons, muscles and tendons. In order to study the horses they were suspended from the ceiling so in the drawings they appear to be walking or standing. I will spare you the gruesome details but because there was no refrigeration in those days for transportation of carcasses, the horses did not die of natural causes although they were reportedly old.
Stubbs must have had a strong stomach and a stoical nature! Imagine the stench and horror of it all. Essentially, he needed the knowledge of horses’ anatomy to improve his skill as a painter, but in 1766 he published his drawings in ‘The Anatomy of the Horse,‘ a work which was also of great interest to scientists and vets.
Of course, ‘the Girl with the Pearl Earring’ by Vermeer is also on display, as is, ‘the Goldfinch’ by Fabritius, along with many other iconic Dutch paintings. It was a privilege to view these artworks in so much peace. Each exhibition space allowed limited numbers of visitors. The maximum number was displayed on the threshold of each room. I highly recommend a visit to this museum, but don’t forget to reserve a slot. And above all, don’t forget the excellent chocolate cake!