Anatomy of the Horse

“IN between the spaces of life are a few landmarks which still show on the faint horizon of the past when one lies awake in the early hours, going far back in memory. These increase and surprise us as they arise and take shape.  
An anatomical page from an early sketch-book.
Stubbs’s Anatomy of the Horse makes a large landmark in my youthful days, with its copper-plate engravings, which at the time I was unable to appreciate to the full. Now, being older and knowing all there is to know of this great artist, through reading and looking at his work, I begin to realise what an in- defatigable colossus Stubbs was. To study those plates having read of how and why, after making his drawings, he also had to engrave them on copper himself because nobody else would do it gives the serious artist food for much thought. Mr. Scott at the School of Art had told me, when talking of comparative and animal anatomy, that I should try to find a Stubbs’s Anatomy ; and one day I called in on Reuben Levine, who sold old silver and rare books, and he made a note of this, and advertised and got one an original edition, in full size and good condition, for which I paid fifty shillings.  
An anatomical page from an early sketch-book.
An anatomical page from an early sketch-book.
[At the Art School] I had been drawing Rosa Bonheur’s cast of the anatomical horse, and had studied other books. Then, with these plates, I began to understand the shape and make of the horse, and while I was full of enthusiasm and acquiring fresh knowledge came another event, all to the good. This was the gift to the Museum of the most perfectly set up skeletons of a man and horse, which were given by an old vet who was retiring from practice.

Study of a Camellia, watercolour, sepia wash on paper. 1893.
Flowering Plant, watercolour, sepia wash on paper. c1891.

…Here was another landmark. I started with light and shade from an ornamental bas-relief, in black and white. I did many of these, some in sepia … My next task was the never-to-be-forgotten horse’s head from the Parthenon; and all through the hours of work at lithograph from nine till seven I lived only to go on with that splendid horse’s head in sepia from seven to nine ! The hours spent on it each evening slipped away too fast, but they were not wasted, for I learned all I know of a horse’s head from that cast.

Study from the Antique, Horses Head, East Pediment, Parthenon.
Sir Alfred Munnings, An Artist’s Life, 1950.