Our collections feature several works by renowned 18th-century animal artist George Stubbs, most notably his groundbreaking paintings of a kangaroo and dingo.
Now on display in the Queen's House, these paintings brought to astounded public attention the extraordinary 'new' world of Australia.
Born in Liverpool as the son of a leatherworker, Stubbs spent his early career in the north of England painting portraits and developing his interest in anatomy. After a short visit to Rome in 1754, he settled in Lincolnshire and spent the next 18 months dissecting horses in preparation for his major publication, The Anatomy of the Horse (1766).
Stubbs' horse pictures are among the most accurate ever painted, but his work is also lyrical and transcends naturalism. Stubbs painted many exotic animals, including lions, tigers, giraffes, monkeys and rhinoceroses, which he observed in private menageries.
Inspired by Cook’s Pacific voyages
Captain James Cook's first Pacific voyage was an exploration taking in new lands, people and strange exotic flora and fauna. On his departure from British shores in HM bark Endeavour in 1768, Cook was joined by the wealthy naturalist Joseph Banks, who led the scientific focus of the voyage.
With two accompanying artists and a botanist, the group made sketches and collected specimens of plants and animals unknown to 18th-century Europeans.
The first European depictions of kangaroos and dingos
On their return to England, Stubbs was commissioned by Joseph Banks to produce two unique paintings of a kangaroo and a dingo using the sketches, animal skins and descriptions brought back from the voyage.
The resulting artworks are Stubbs' only studies of animals native to Australia, and the first depictions of Australian animals in Western art. He exhibited both at the Society of Artists in London in 1773 where they captured the imagination of the public and scientific communities.
The paintings were commissioned by Sir Joseph Banks, the gentleman-scientist, immediately after taking part in Captain James Cook’s renowned ‘first voyage of discovery’ to the Pacific (1768–71).
Significant to the history of exploration, science, natural history and the study of British art, the Museum acquired The Kongouro from New Holland (c. 1773) and Portrait of a Large Dog (Dingo), by George Stubbs, for the nation in 2013.
Using our collections for research
The collections at Royal Museums Greenwich offer a world-class resource for researching maritime history, astronomy and time.