George Stubbs’ Vale of Tears

George Stubbs (1724-1806) spent over thirty years working over his ‘lion and horse’ theme.  I have spent the last thirty hours considering this theme, but can definitely see devoting another few decades in pursuit of its wild permutations.  Stubbs, I think, is a master at portraying ‘animal pathos,’ which is of course nothing less than human anthropomorphic pathos.  What invigorates the eye is the total outrage of the natural world (and the Enlightenment’s struggle to come to terms with it).  But Stubbs’ is not the coiled and dispassionate world described centuries later by Herzog — and this may well be the difference between an emotionally heightened, pre-Romantic anatomical study of things and a more august, post-Holocaust reading of the environment.  The chaos and terror is present in both, but Stubbs infuses his subjects with such blood, musculature and vivacity that one cannot fail to be impressed with their positive vigor.  I am anyway, and would recommend his work to anyone interested in the psychic collision between the human and animal imaginations and grave pre-ambles to the discovery of the unconscious.  Peace.

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