Renaissance figure Leonardo da Vinci is famous for many things, from designing the first helicopter to painting the Mona Lisa. One of his most notable achievements was to capture human anatomy on paper, board, and canvas. From the Renaissance onward, science and art went hand in hand, especially in rendering the human form. Horses and other animals, on the other hand, were not always studied in so much detail.

George Stubbs (English, 1724 – 1806) was one of the first artists to use extensive equine anatomical study in his body of work. Stubbs was mostly self-taught, and he studied human dissection at York Hospital to inform his art. His fascination with anatomy then led Stubbs to published Anatomy of a Horse in 1766.

George Stubbs (British, 1724–1806). Three plates from The Anatomy of the Horse, 1766. Plates: etching; 18 1/4 x 23 in. (46.4 x 58.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, 1953 (53.599.1bis)

The ability to convincingly capture individual horse conformation and motion on canvas eluded most artists of this time. Stubbs, in contract, was not only able to render a horse with paint, but to place the horse within the composition naturally and effectively.


George Stubbs, English, 1724 - 1806 (Artist); Hyena with a Groom
George Stubbs (English, 1724–1806), Hyaena at Newmarket with One of Jenison Shafto’s Stablelads, ca. 1765–7, oil on canvas, 40 1/8 x 50 1/8 inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Paul Mellon Collection (image source:

Stubbs was made President of the Society of Artists in 1772 and elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1780; he exhibited for both groups.  Stubbs’ recognition, however, seemed to stall even though his skill was recognized far and wide. Animal subjects were relegated to a lower order than historic, figurative, and landscape art in a hierarchy long established by fine art academies and art critics. Stubbs continued to study and paint, but passed away with little fanfare in 1806.

George Stubbs - Whistlejacket, 1762 at the National Gallery London England
George Stubbs (1724–1806)
c. 1762,
292 cm × 246.4 cm (115 in × 97 in)
National Gallery, London

George Stubbs’ contributions to art do not rest solely in the “animal painter” genre. Though known for his sporting scenes, Stubbs’ dedication to realism and anatomy place him in the category of artists who, like Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo, seek the truth in art through science.

Want to know more about George Stubbs and British sporting art? Visit the National Sporting Library & Museum this Spring to see A Sporting Vision: The Paul Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art from the from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,  a traveling exhibition organized by VMFA, on view April 13 – July 22, 2018.


Anne Marie Barnes is the Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM). Her passion for museum work began shortly after graduation with a Bachelor’s degree in History from James Madison University. Between her experience working at the Fredericksburg Area Museum & Cultural Center and the Washington Heritage Museums, she has done everything from designing summer camps to formulating major fundraisers. Have a question? Contact Anne Marie by e-mail

Last week we took a closer look at some of the amazing art that is on loan to the Museum exhibition, Faithfulness to Nature: Paintings by Edward Troye. This week we will explore the Library archive exhibition currently in the Forrest E. Mars, Sr. Exhibit Hall, Edward Troye and His Biographers: The Archives of Harry Worcester Smith and Alexander Mackay-Smith. On view through March 29, 2015, most of the materials in this exhibit are from the NSLM’s permanent collections.

Edward Troye and His Biographers: The Archives of Harry Worcester Smith and Alexander Mackay-Smith, Forrest E. Mars, Sr. Exhibit Hall

Author and John H. Daniels Fellow Martha Wolfe spent several months elbow-deep in boxes, pulling file after file from the Harry Worcester Smith and Alexander Mackay-Smith archives to research and write an essay for the extensive Coming Home Series: Edward Troye (1808-1874) catalog. Wolfe wrote, “Here in the National Sporting Library & Museum archives, in boxes stacked nearly to the ceiling, is the story of three men whose lives spanned two centuries, whose interests overlapped and whose souls were kindred: artist Edward Troye (1808-1874); the indomitable sportsman Harry Worcester Smith (1864-1945); and scholar, chronicler and author Alexander Mackay-Smith (1903-1998).” Some of the treasures that Martha unearthed include: a photographic print of Edward Troye taken by W.R. Phipps, Lexington Kentucky, which the artist presented to his long-time friend and patron Alexander Keene Richards in 1872;…

Troye photo
Edward Troye, photographic print taken by W.R. Phipps, Lexington Kentucky, Harry Worcester Smith Archive, MC0041, Box 5, Harry W. Smith: Troye, Advertizements for horses Misc.

…the artist’s calling card. Two versions are known – this and another which reads “Edward Troye, Animal Painter.”;

Edward Troye, Artist. calling card, Harry Worcester Smith Archive, MC0041, Box 5, Harry W. Smith: Troye, Advertizements for horses Misc.

…a negative print copy of pages from Troye’s obituary written in the flowing hand of A. Keene Richards on July 24, 1874. It begins, “Edward Troye the imminent Animal Painter died this morning of Pneumonia hastened by Heart disease…”;

Troye obit
negative print copy of pages from Edward Troye obituary by A. Keene Richards, July 24, 1874, Harry Worcester Smith Archive, MC0041, Box 5, Harry W. Smith: Troye, Advertizements for horses Misc.

…and an envelope written on by Harry Worcester Smith, the sporting scholar who spent over three decades tracking down and championing Edward Troye’s artwork. Worcester Smith had intended to write a book on the artist, but he never published one. “Who will finish or continue my accumulation of Thought Feeling and Art?” Worcester-Smith asked.

Harry Worcester Smith envelope, Harry Worcester Smith Archive

During her research, Wolfe unearthed a letter that pointed to Alexander Mackay-Smith as the answer to this profound question. Carvel Collins, who in 1949 produced a portfolio of reproductions of Troye’s 19th century American racehorse engravings, wrote this endorsement to Alexander Mackay-Smith, ““Mr. Harry Worcester Smith on the day before he died gave me his compliments on your interest and skill in historical research and in sport.”

collins letter
Letter to Alexander Mackay-Smith from Dr. Carvel Collins, Assistant Dean, Harvard College, April 11, 1945, F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room [letter inserted in: The American Sporting Gallery: Portraits of American Horses from Spirit of the Times, 1839-1844, set of fourteen engravings with commentary by Carvel Collins]
Taking up the baton, Alexander Mackay-Smith became a noted scholar and a founder of the National Sporting Library in 1954. Almost three decades later, he spent three years researching Worcester Smith’s archive held at the NSL to complete the definitive biography and chronology, The Race Horses of America 1832 – 1872: Portraits and Other Paintings by Edward Troye, published by the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1981.

A view of the Library exhibition with Portrait of Harry Worcester Smith, 1928,  by Richard Benno Adam (German, 1873 – 1937), Gift of the Saddle & Sirloin Club, Chicago, on the left and Alexander Mackay-Smith, 1955, painted in 1999 by Wallace Wilson Nall (American, 1923 – 2003) after a painting by Jean Bowman (American, 1917 – 1994)  on the right.

Troye, Worcester Smith, and Mackay-Smith shared a passion for sport and art that lives and breathes in the Library and Museum’s Coming Home Series: Edward Troye (1808-1874) exhibitions. We invite you to be inspired as well.

– Claudia Pfeiffer, George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art

P.S. Annie Johnson, the Editor of Antebellum Turf Times, came out to explore these two exhibitions in-depth in October and wrote an article incorporating her research on Edward Troye and Thoroughbred racing which has just been published in American Racehorse magazine. Read article