Famous Equestrian Paintings and Drawings; Horse Racing and The Horse in Art
Whistlejacket by George Stubbs
Some famous equestrian artists
Some of the world's greatest artists have dedicated their lives to capturing the horse on canvas, and I have listed some of the more well-known below with links to sites where you can learn more about them. If you scroll further down the page you will find some great examples of the horse in art, from very early cave paintings, Roman floor and wall mosaics, right through to the horse racing paintings of Alfred Munnings, and the super realism of George Stubbs.
- Jacques Laurent Agasse (1767-1849) A Swiss-born artist who went on to study in Paris under Jacques-Louis David. Agasse painted many animal subjects including 'The Nubian Giraffe' or 1827. His horse paintings were particularly fine, and he made a career for himself, based mainly in England, painting a range of subjects.
- Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899) was a French artist famed for her ability to paint vast canvasses of animals in general, and horses in particular. Her work can be found in the Musee D'Orsay in Paris, the National Gallery in London, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York
- William Burraud (1810-1850) was an English equestrian artist and illustrator, born in Lambeth in London, one of 17 children. He regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy in London, and engravings of his work were very popular. In more recent times, the engraved copper plates of some of his illustrations have been re-struck and issued as vintage style prints.
- Susan Crawford (1941-) Possibly the most famous living equestrian artist, Scottish-born Susan Crawford is probably best known for her painting 'We Three Kings' which depicts the race horses 'Arkle', 'Red Rum' and 'Desert Orchid'. She has enjoyed an extremely successful career both as an equestrian artist, and as a portrait painter. If you enjoy looking at paintings of horses, then do look at the gallery on her website. Her amazing attention to detail, and her ability to capture character and personality have ensured her a place in Art History.
- Edgar Degas ( 1834- 1917) Born in Paris, France, Edgar Degas is perhaps best known for his paintings and sculptures of ballet dancers, but he also was a proficient, and indeed prolific, equestrian artist. Many of his horse paintings hang in the world's great museums, and some are included in the pictures below.
- Theodore Gericault (1791-1824) Born in France, Gericault is best known for his painting, 'The Raft of the Medusa,' a major historical, figurative work, although he was actually a very gifted portrayer of horses, and many of his works in Museums and galleries are of equestrian subjects.
- John Frederick Herring (senior) (1795-1865) Herring had a varied career, and worked as a painter, a sign-maker and a coachman, before finally receiving the recognition he deserved. In 1845, at the age of 50, John Herring was given the position of 'Animal Painter to HRH the Duchess of Kent', and subsequent commissions from Queen Victoria ensured his position as an eminent Victorian artist. Herring was particularly noted for his horse paintings.
- Lucy Kemp-Welch (1869-1958), the artist who illustrated the original edition of Anna Sewell's classic novel, Black Beauty, became the first president of the Society of Animal Painters. She also dedicated her life to painting horses, and her work can be seen in many museums and collections
- Sir Alred Munnings (1866- 1959) Once a president of the Royal Academy of Art in London, Sir Alfred Munnings is possibly best remembered these days for his fabulous paintings of race horses. His former home, Castle House, in Dedham, Essex, UK, is now a museum housing some of his most outstanding work.
- Frederic Remington (1861-1909) was an American, famous for his atmospheric paintings and sculptures of the men and horses of the Wild West.
- George Stubbs (1724-1806) was a British artist, perhaps best known for his portrait of Whistlejacket (see header painting at the top of this hub.) He was much in demand by wealthy patrons keen to have their horses captured for posterity
The pictures below are a selection of works by artists both ancient and modern. Enjoy!
One of the earliest known equestrian paintings
Horses galloping, Lascaux Cave Painting
The caves which have sheltered this, and many other primitive Paleolithic paintings for around 17,300 years, was first re-discovered in the 1940s at Lascaux in the Dordogne region of France. These days the caves are closed to the public in an effort to protect the images from damage caused by strong lights, moisture and mould.
The Alexander Mosaic from the Museo Archaelogico in Naples
Pompeii's fiery mosaic horses
The Alexander Mosaic, dating from circa 100 BC, is preserved in the National Archaelogical Museum in Naples, Italy. It was discovered in the House of the Faun during the excavation of Pompeii, an ancient Roman settlement, which was destroyed during a volcanic eruption. The horses are shown as lively and wild-eyed. This wonderfully detailed mosaic allows us to see how horses were harnessed and ridden over 2,000 years ago.
12th Century Song dynasty hand-scroll painting by Li Gonglin
Li Gonglin was a Chinese painter of horses who was active in the 12th century during the Northern Song dynasty. Trained as a civil servant, and also active as an archaeologist, Li Gonglin was a man of many talents. This picture is apparently a re-working of an 8th century original and is therefore a very ancient image indeed.
The Uffington White Horse is etched in chalk on a hill-side in Oxfordshire, England
The Uffington White Horse
The Uffington White Horse is a highly stylized Bronze Age hill figure, which measures 110 m long (374 feet). It lies on the upper slopes of White Horse Hill at Uffington, Oxfordshire, and is one of a number of chalk images carved into hill-sides in the English countryside, although it is by far the oldest of them. The figure is formed from deep trenches filled with crushed white chalk. Modern dating methods suggest that it is around 3000 years old, and the site has been maintained periodically throughout it's long history, in order to prevent it grassing over. No-one knows why it was originally cut into the soil, although there are many theories. Certainly it is a powerful image, and it featured on many of the Celtic coins that were in circulation before the Roman occupation of Britain.
Giovanni di Piero de Medici on horseback. A detail from a fresco by Benozzo Gozzoli
Study of a horse by Leonardo Da Vinci
The da Vinci horse in San Siro Hippodrome, Milan
Leonardo's Unfinished Project
In 1482 Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned by the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Il Moro, to produce a sculpture of a horse. It was intended to be the largest equestrian statue in the world, and a monument to the duke's father, Francesco. Leonardo made many drawings and designs, but the long-drawn out project ground to a halt in 1499, when French soldiers invaded Milan, and destroyed Leonardo's preparatory clay model. About five centuries later, Leonardo's surviving design materials were used as the basis for sculptures intended to bring the project to fruition. Two full sized versions were subsequently cast, and one now stands in the San Siro Hippodrome in Milan, and the other is in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Two Horses by Abraham Van Calraet
Dutch painter of fruit and horses
Abraham Pietersz Van Kalraat (1642-1722) (also known as Van Calraet) was a Dutch Golden Age Painter who started his career as an artist painting fruit, but is now also known for his excellent paintings of horses in landscapes. This image of two horses shows Van Kalraat's attention to detail, and fondness for painting these wonderful animals.
A Horse by Balthasar Paul Ommeganck
Born in Antwerp in 1755 Balthasar Paul Ommeganck (1755–1826) became renowned for his skill as a painter of animals and landscapes. At twelve years old, he was registered in the Antwerp Guild of SaintLuke as a pupil of the respected painter Hendricus Josephus Antonissen. He also studied at the Antwerp Academy where he was awarded a second prize for drawing in March 1771. Ommeganck built on his early successes, and enjoyed a long and rewarding career both as an artist and as a teacher. This picture of a hoirse demonstrates Ommeganck's talent for depicting the rough winter coats of horses at pasture,
Fox Hunting by Henry Aitken
Relay Hunting by Rosa Bonheur 1887
'Relay Hunting' by Rosa Bonheur, 1887
Rosa Bonheur (1822-99) was already in her 60s when she completed this serene oil on canvas. Whilst it has none of the fire and passion of her earlier painting 'The Horse Fair' which is shown below, it does demonstrate her mastery of animal portraiture. The horses are beautifully painted and every detail is faithfully recorded.
The St Louis Art Museum received this picture as a gift from Justina G. Catlin in memory of her husband, Daniel.
Detail from 'The Horse Fair' by Rosa Bonheur,1853-55
'The Horse Fair' by Rosa Bonheur
Rosa Bonheur was already an established and successful artist, when she first exhibited "The Horse Fair" at the Paris Salon of 1853. However, none of her earlier work was admired in quite the same way as this large-scale oil painting with it's lively and characterful depiction of horses at a horse fair in France. It quickly became a very popular image, and was exhibited in Paris, Ghent, and Bordeaux, England and the United States. Since being acquired by MOMA in 1887 it has become one of the Metropolitan Museum's best-known works of art.
'Horses and Ducks by a River' by John Frederick Herring, senior
'Mares and Foals' by George Stubbs, 1762
'Mares and Foals' by George Stubbs, 1763-68
The racehorse, Eclipse, with his groom at Newmarket by George Stubbs
Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David 1800
Napoleon Crossing the Alps
This famous image of Napoleon crossing the St Bremmer Pass is one of a series of five such paintings created by the French artist Jacques-Louis David. Napoleon was so completely delighted with the first painting completed by the great artist, that he commissioned a further three versions, showing him mounted on different coloured horses, and wrapped in different coloured cloaks. Despite the fact that Napoleon refused to give sittings for his portraits, David managed to produce an iconic work of art. He also produced a fifth version of the painting which remained in his own studio until his death.
From the outset, this painting was designed to present Napoleon in a dramatic and commanding manner. Effectively intended as a piece of propaganda, the artist has shown the Emperor mounted on a 'fiery steed' against an ominous sky. In fact the crossing of the Alps happened in fair weather, and Napoleon was led across riding a mule!
Buccaroos by Charles Marion Russell (1902)
Race Horses in a Landscape by Edgar Degas 1894
'Jockeys before the Start' by Edgar Degas
'Riders on the Beach' by Paul Gauguin, 1902
'Charge of Flowerdew's Squadron' by Sir Alfred Munnings 1918
'Charge of Flowerdew's Squadron' by Sir Alfred Munnings 1918
Sir Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) was a British artist, famous for his many paintings of horses. Munnings was an official war artist in the first World War conflict in Europe, and was attached to the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. He painted this large canvas in 1918 as a tribute to 'the last great cavalry charge'. Nearly three-quarters of the Canadian cavalry involved in this attack against German machine-gun positions at Moreuil Wood on 30 March 1918 were killed or wounded. Lieutenant G.M. Flowerdew, who led the charge, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
Horse Market: Five Horses at the Stake by Theodore Gericault (1816-19)
The Horse Market by Gericault
Born in Rouen, France, Theodore Jean Louis Gericault (1791 -1824) became a pioneer of the Romantic movement in Art. Although he died young, he produced some of art's best known images, including 'The Raft of the Medusa'. The picture shown above, of horses tied to a stake at a horse market, now hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. It is executed in watercolour over pencil and red chalk.
The Three Bogatyrs by Viktor Vasnetsov
Tram Horses on Dam Square by George Hendrik Breitner, 1894
Breitner, painter of atmosphere and social realism
George Hendrick Breitner (1857-1923) was a Dutch painter and photographer who enjoyed painting everyday life in an honest, and realistic style. Whilst not specifically an equestrian artist, he often did paint horses, purely because they were very much a part of everyday life in the Netherlands during his career. Breitner was a contemporary of Vincent Van Gogh, and was introduced to him by Vincent's brother, Theo. They occasionally went out sketching together, but Breitner was unimpressed by his friend's work, and didn't consider him to be a good artist. History, of course, has decided otherwise!
The Scout - 'Friends or Foes?' by Frederic Sackrider Remington
Smoke Signals by Frederic Remington
Mare and Foal by Robert Bevan
Robert Bevan's Mare and Foal
Born on the South Coast of England, in Hove, East Sussex, in 1865, Robert Bevan was fortunate enough to be able to study and work in Paris during his early years as an artist, and he knew both Gaugin and Renoir, and studied alongside Pierre Bonnard. This early exposure to the works of the great French Impressionists helped Bevan to develop a very distinctive personal style of painting. Unfortunately, just like Van Gogh and Rousseau, Bevan's work was not always well appreciated in his life-time. However, a series of retrospective exhibitions held in 1965, 100 years after his birth revealed his extraordinary talent, and many of his paintings can now be seen at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, as part of the Bevan Gift, a donation made by Robert Bevan's children.
Blue Horse I by Franz Marc (1911)
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Artists from around the world create a giant mural of a horse
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