George Stubbs (1724–1806) was England’s greatest painter of hunting scenes, horse racing and other manly pursuits. This exhibition of loans from the Yale Center for British Art shares its gallery with the Met’s 18th-century British portraits, which is fitting, as Stubbs’s paintings focus on the characterization of both man and finely muscled beast.
“Gentlemen Going a Shooting,” a set of four paintings from the 1760s, features sequential incidents of a hunt, with one capturing a bird being shot out of the sky. Freeman, the Earl of Clarendon’s gamekeeper, with a dying doe and hound (1800) pictures a huntsman delivering the coup de grâce to a wounded deer as his dog looks on.
All the works here essay a pastoral mode to glorify the pastimes of yesteryear’s 1 percent (something rather alien to the image of today’s billionaire vulgarians), suggesting that the past remains a foreign country. But Freeman’s ineffable strangeness, moody and bloody, evokes an anxiety that feels somehow contemporary.