The subject of the picture was Isaac Van Amburgh, a renowned lion-tamer who also went with the name Van Amburgh, the Brute Tamer. Isaac was known for prowess in taming the big cats that included lions, leopards and tigers and drew huge audiences across London and Dury Lane. One of the greatest fans of the show was the young Queen Victoria, who is said to have visited his shows at Dury Lane for over six times. She even stayed behind after the curtains fell to see how Isaac was playing with the animals.
According to her memoirs, he would hold the animals by their paws and throw them on the ground to make them roar. He would then lie beside them such that they were all around him and none could hurt him. It is during one of these visits that she commissioned her favourite painter, Henry Landseer, to paint an image of Isaac Van Amburgh as he did the death-defying performances with the big cats. Landseer painted two versions of the acts. Both of them are kept at the Royal Collection museum. The second painting was specifically done for the Duke of Wellington, who was so much delighted with the painting that he paid a thousand pounds for it.
Edwin Henry Landseer was a celebrated animalier who painted animals as they looked in real life. In this image, he has gone to great lengths to show the intricate details of both the animals and the subject. Besides, he was good at proportions, giving the image a realistic feel as each item is relative to the other in terms of the size.
This painting is done on canvas. The painter uses vivid colours and plays with the light to both show the closed space while at the same time, keep the details of the image as vivid as possible. Given that at the time there was no photography, Landseer had a superb memory that allowed him to work on images he had seen a while back without forgetting any details that were included in them. Besides, he brought in the idea of Anthropomorphism, where he brought in emotions, authority and fear on the part of the animals in the image.