A 3-2-1 Look: George Stubbs







For this 3-2-1, we’ll look closely at George Stubbs’ painting “A Lion Attacking a Horse”. The piece is hanging in the Library Court on the Second Floor of the YCBA. Stubbs painted this in 1762.

cropped to image, recto, unframed

3 important observations about this painting:

  1. The animals’ bodies are incredibly detailed. The horse’s muscles and the lion’s claws are lifelike In order to best paint the lion and horse, he studied caged lions at the Tower of London, and observed horses in the English countryside.
  1. The painting captures movement. Stubbs shows motion through the horse’s wobbly back leg and wildly flailing hair and in the lion’s high tail ad sturdy posture.
  1. The subject of the piece is symbolic. Many paintings of lions attacking horses were created; many were made in ancient Rome, and Greece far before Stubb’s day. But in the 18th century, artists returned to the image. In fact, Stubbs made seventeen works on the subject.

2 major takeaways from this painting:

  1. The detail of the horse and lion’s bodies is based on values of the time. . During the time this painting was made, later called romantic period in Europe, artists became really focused on studying the details of the human body in order to capture its’ beauty. Stubbs used the same detail and care when painting the bodies of the horse and lion in this painting. In following this same technique that other artists used on humans, Stubbs makes us think about the differences between animals and men.
  1. Stubbs adds new meaning to this symbolic image of a horse attacking a lion. In Ancient Rome, the lion attacking the horse represented the Roman’s ferocity and domination. In other cultures, the horse’s demise represented the destruction of beauty. In this painting, and in his 16 others, Stubbs recreates an image from hundreds of years before in modern time. In doing so, he asked those viewing his piece to think about how 18th century society was similar or different from ancient society.

1 activity to engage students:

  1. Two- Color Sketch: students will understand the struggle between ferocity and beauty by sketching the animals’ movements in this painting.
    • Materials: One piece of paper and two different colored pencils per student, hard surfaces.
    • Instructions:
      1. First, briefly introduce the painting, naming the artist, time period, and the significance of the imagery (depending on age of students, choose to explain that the lion represents ferocity and the horse represents the fall of beauty).
      2. Second, have students assign each animal a pencil color.
      3. Then, have students sketch each animal using only the color they assigned to it. While drawing, they should focus on shape and movement of the animals. Spend about 8 minutes.
      4. Once they finish their sketches, have them compare with a partner. Each pair should discuss how they drew the movement of the animals and how these movements characterized the animals as fierce or beautiful.
      5. Lastly, discuss student work as a group.
    • Discussion Questions: What do the lion and horse represent and how do we know? Why did you assign the colors you did to the lion and horse? Why would Stubbs have wanted to remind his audience of this image that was used so long before his time?


Announcing The 3-2-1 Look Blog Series!


We are excited to announce our new blog series premiering this winter called “A 3-2-1 Look!” Each post will examine a different work from the YCBA collections. The once- weekly posts will note three important observations of the piece, two major takeaways from the piece, and one activity for students visiting the piece. The blog posts will provide thoughtful ways for teachers to engage students in rich and interactive analysis of the collection’s pieces. We hope you enjoy!


Developing Sensory Vocabulary, by Darcy Hicks


Autumn is a great time to explore our senses, and to build sensory vocabulary in the classroom. Using leaves and branches and acorns gathered from outside, the goal with the students this week was to understand how close scientific observation leads to good writing. I wanted to move them through sensory vocabulary, scientific observation, and poetic observation.

I handed out pine tree branches as we sat together on the rug. “Ouch!” they yelled as they eagerly grabbed them. “Pointy!” “Sharp!” I wrote these words on chart paper, and asked them what else they could tell me about the  branches. “Green.” “Prickly.” I asked them to smell them. “Minty!” “Sweet.” I continued asking them to use various senses to describe the branches, writing get their words on the chart paper. “These are Sensory Words,” I explained as I wrote the title of our list. “They catch people’s attention if you use them when you write.”


Next I had them bring the branches to their seats, also passing out maple leaves and acorns. I asked them to draw “like a scientist,” one of the three items, with as much detail as they could. My goal was to move them through three stages of observation and writing:

  1. List sensory vocabulary (texture, color, smell, shape, etc)
  2. Specific observations
  3. Poetic/abstract thinking

In the above drawing of an acorn, you can see that the student moved through these three stages. She used sensory vocabulary (“bumpy,” “fresh,” “smooth”) and then went on to make scientific observations (“I noticed tiny lines,” etc.. From there, she moved into a more abstract comparison (“This acorn reminds me of a marshmallow wearing a hat”). This is a great time to assess their vocabulary, and to encourage them to share words and ideas with each other.

Inevitably, the kids were chatting about what their drawings looked like. “Mine kind of looks like a cactus,” one said about his branch drawing. “This looks like a fly swatter!” a girl who had drawn a leaf said. I decided it was a window to talk about metaphors. I asked them to all wrote a sentence on their papers, describing what it looks like other than what it really is. Although we did not define metaphors in the true sense (i.e. “the leaf is like a ____”), they were beginning to think metaphorically as they made their comparisons and shared their ideas.

"The leaf is like a bat with smooth wings."
“The leaf is like a bat with smooth wings.”

The students agreed that scientists make good writers. For me, the child who drew and wrote about the above leaf, comparing it to a “bat with smooth wings,” demonstrates the power of close observation.