Stubbs painted three versions of the work in the 1760-70s, all showing the tiger in the same pose but on different scales.
The first was commissioned by the 4th Duke of Marlborough and remains in the private apartments at Blenheim Palace.
Another, the largest of the three, was previously part of the Portman collection and sold for £2.9m at Christie’s back in 1995 (it got away under estimate but was a then-record for Stubbs). The third and smallest picture is now part of the Paul Mellon Collection and hangs at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Nineteenth century version
The 2ft 7in x 3ft 10in (78cm x 1.17m) oil on canvas offered at Bellmans’ (25% buyer’s premium) latest Old Master, British and European Paintings auction in West Sussex on March 28 was closest in size to the version at Blenheim but around 10% smaller.
It also seemed to follow the Blenheim version in terms of the tiger’s features and the composition of the foliage and background.
Thought to date from the 19th century, the Bellmans’ catalogue described it as ‘an excellent copy’. It came to auction from a vendor whose great-great-grandfather purchased it in c.1900.
In terms of its condition, it had been relined and had areas of retouching visible under UV light (it had been sent by the vendor’s father to restorer Arthur Ackermann & Peter Johnson in the 1990s).
However, despite craquelure and opaque varnish, the catalogue concluded that ‘the work appears very presentable and is in ‘ready to hang’ condition’.
While copies such as this are often slightly tricky to estimate, Bellmans plugged for a £10,000-15,000 pitch, a level which was not regarded as either undercooked or unattainable.
It attracted decent interest and, coming down to a battle between two London dealers, it was eventually knocked down at £38,000.