Captain Pocklington, who wears the uniform of the Scots Guard, retired from the third regiment in 1769, the same year that Stubbs painted this group portrait. Seated on the bench is the captain's wife, Pleasance, who is probably wearing bridal clothes. The woman standing behind Pleasance is presumably Pocklington's sister, Frances.
Stubbs' fame is based on his precise and naturalistic depictions of animals, primarily horses, even in paintings such as this that are ostensibly about human matters. Stubbs lived in a world fascinated with scientific inquiry; he himself actually performed dissections of animals to fully understand their anatomy.
Stubbs' interest in the structure and complexity of living things led him to adopt a working style in which he first painted the individual figures and then completed the background and secondary details. The subjects are arranged in a friezelike pattern against the darker, more muted shades of the massive tree and fanciful landscape. Stubbs was not invited to exhibit at the Royal Academy because he had been labeled as a horse painter, and his popularity sank even lower during the romantic era. Now in an age that looks back on pioneers such as Stubbs with fascination and respect, his stature as an artist has greatly increased.
More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries, which is available as a free PDF https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/british-paintings-16th-19th-centuries.pdf
lower right: Geo: Stubbs / pinxit 1769
Painted for Samuel Sharpe Pocklington [d. 1781], Chelsworth Hall, Suffolk; by descent through his elder son, Colonel Sir Robert Pocklington, who married Catherine Blagrave, to John Blagrave, Calcot Park, Berkshire; (sale, Messrs. Foster, London, 28 June 1911, no. 102); purchased by Francis Howard for (M. Knoedler & Co., New York, London, and Paris); purchased by 1913 by Charles Stewart Carstairs [1865-1928], London; by inheritance to his wife, Mrs. Charles S. Carstairs [née Elizabeth Stebbins, d. 1949], London; bequest 1952 to NGA.
- Meisterwerke englischer Malerei aus drei Jahrhunderten, Secession, Vienna, 1927, no. 54, repro.
- English Conversation Pieces, Sir Philip Sassoon's, 45 Park Lane, London, 1930, no. 47 (souvenir, 49, repro.).
- British Art, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1934, no. 395 (commemorative catalogue, no. 165, repro.).
- Loan to display with the permanent collection, Tate Gallery, London, 1936-1947.
- George Stubbs 1724-1806, Tate Gallery, London; Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1984-1985, no. 107, color repro., color detail, (catalogue by Judy Egerton).
- Stubbs & The Horse, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth; The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore; The National Gallery, London, 2004-2005, no. 58, fig. 61.
The medium-weight canvas is plain woven; it has been lined, but the tacking margins still survive intact. The lining and nonoriginal stretcher may be over one hundred years old; fabrics were mounted on the new stretcher slightly off center, so that original paint extends slightly onto the top edge of the stretcher and about half an inch of overpainted ground appears along the bottom edge. The ground is grayish white, of moderate thickness. The painting is executed smoothly, fluidly, and fairly thickly, with low impasto. Visible to the naked eye is an old, horizontal, retouched tear about 10 cm. long extending in from the right edge slightly above the rocks. The overall craquelure was inpainted in 1984; the abrasion in the horse's rump and in the dark foliage above the horse's tail was glazed over at the same time; although the original and lining fabrics are somewhat fragile, the restoration of 1984 did not include relining. The synthetic varnish has not discolored.
- Cooke, Hereward Lester. British Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1960 (Booklet Number Eight in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 24, color repro., as Colonel Pocklington with His Sisters.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. Treasures from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1962: 126, color repro., as Colonel Pocklington with His Sisters.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 319, repro., as Colonel Pocklington with His Sisters.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 126, as Colonel Pocklington with His Sisters.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 2:356, color repro., as Colonel Pocklington and His Sisters.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 112, repro., as Colonel Pocklington with His Sisters.
- Praz, Mario. Conversation Pieces. London, 1971: 134, color cover and color fig. 95.
- Taylor, Basil. Stubbs. London, 1971: 37-38, pls. 57-59.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 334, repro., as Colonel Pocklington with His Sisters.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: no. 529, color repro.
- Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 92, pl. 79.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 368, no. 516, color repro., as Colonel Pocklington and His Sisters.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 384, repro.
- Hayes, John. British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 259-261, color repro. 260.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 144, repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 282-283, no. 230, color repro.