Famous Equestrian Paintings and Drawings; Horse Racing and The Horse in Art
Whistlejacket by George Stubbs
Some Famous Equestrian Artists
- Susan Crawford (1941-) Undoubtedly one of the greatest British equestrian artists, Susan Crawford has created an outstanding body of work, including one of the best known equestrian paintings 'We Three Kings', which features portrait heads of 'Desert Orchid, Red Rum and Arkle'. Born in Scotland in 1941, Susan Crawford has enjoyed enormous professional success and acclaim throughout her career.
- Sir Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) Sir Alfred James Munnings, was known as one of England's finest painters of horses, and his distinguished artistic career was rewarded with a knighthood and a spell as president of London's Royal Academy of Art. He painted numerous well-known pictures in his long career, many of which can be seen hanging at his former home, Castle House in Dedham, Essex.
- George Stubbs (1724-1806) From humble origins as the son of a leather dresser, George Stubbs became one of the most sought after equestrian artists of his era. George Stubbs painted the famous study of 'Whistlejacket' that heads this article.
- Lucy Kemp Welch (1869-1958) British painter and teacher, Lucy Elizabeth Kemp-Welch was best known for the paintings of horses in military service she produced during the first World War, and for her illustrations to the 1915 edition of Anna Sewell's Black Beauty. Born in Bournemouth in Dorset, England, Kemp-Welch dedicated her life to painting horses and other animals.
- Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899) Her most famous work, the monumental Horse Fair, measured eight feet high by sixteen feet wide, and was completed in 1855. Bonheur was born in France, and succeeded in a male dominated profession. Her astonishingly detailed work hangs in museums and galleries around the world.
- Mike Heslop - Contemporary British artist, Mike Heslop enjoys a worldwide appeal and reputation as an exceptional sporting artist. His work is highly collectable, and he has painted many world-renowned racehourses. His many commissions include artwork for a set of UK Royal Mail postage stamps.
- Martin Grelle (1954-) Born and raised in the US state of Texas, Martin Grelle's iconic images of horses, cowboys, and native American Indians, earned him membership of the Cowboy Artists of America in 1995. He has won many prestigious awards for his evocative artwork.
Some More Equestrian Artists and Examples of their Work
Shown below are some well known works of equestrian art with a little bit of information about each of them. These are presented in alphabetical order, and include some of the earliest examples of art featuring horses.
Henry Alken was born in London on 12 October 1785. He came from a family of artists, and he studied primarily under his father, Samuel Alken, and subsequently with the miniaturist, John Thomas Barber Beaumont.
From quite early in his career, Alken began to specialise in sporting subjects, and painted under the name of "Ben Tally-Ho".His highly illustrative style won him many commissions, and his work was very sought after. He became a successful cartoonist and illustrator of sporting life, and his paintings and drawings of horses were among his most popular works. Today his work can be seen hanging in some of the most pretigious museums and galleries, including both theTate Modern, and the British Museum, in London.
'Fox Hunting' by Henry Alken
'To the Craners of England' by Henry Alken
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.
This simple rendering of a mare and her foal was completed in 1917, eight years before Robert Bevan's death. It is one of a series of horse paintings completed by Bevan.
Mare and Foal by Robert Bevan
'The Horse Mart' by Robert Bevan
Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899)
Rosa Bonheur was born on 16 March 1822 in Bordeaux, France. She was the oldest child in a family of artists, and several of her siblings were also very successful painters or sculptors. Rosa Bonheur was the best known of these, and her work is on display in galleries world-wide.
Bonheur had a preference for depicting animal subjects, and her skill was quite extraordinary. At a time when very few women were permitted to pursue an artistic education, or to consider a career in art, Rosa Bonheur blazed her own trail, and we are priveleged to still enjoy her work today.
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 its 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.
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!
Tram Horses on Dam Square by George Hendrik Breitner, 1894
Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825)
Although primarily a painter of society portraits and historical genre paintings, Jacques-Louis David's immense skill in depicting animals earns him a place in the list of equestrian artists, if only for this amazing portrait of 'Napoleon Crossing the Bremmer Pass'.
Born into a prosperous Parisian family, David went on to become an ardent supporter of the French Revolution, and a friend of Robespierre. He supported the fall of the French royal family, and became a follower of Napoleon. Later in his life he lived for a time in both Brussels, and later, Holland, enjoying celebrity and success wherever he landed.
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!
'Stanisław Kostka Potocki' by Jacques-Louis David
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.
Study of a horse by Leonardo Da Vinci
The da Vinci horse in San Siro Hippodrome, Milan
Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Edgar Degas was born in Paris on the 19th July 1834. He is mainly associated with the French Impressionists, and is best known for his delicate paintings and pastel drawings of ballet dancers. However, Degas's many outstanding depictions of horses deserve to be given closer inspection.
Always seeking to represent movement in an effective way, Degas would attempt to show the horses when they were at their most nervous and agitated. He would paint them jostling and tensed up ready for a race to start, or spiky and obstinate refusing to jump a fence. He liked difficult poses, and his interest in photography enabled him to develop new ways of showing a traditional subject matter.
'Jockeys before the Start' by Edgar Degas
Race Horses in a Landscape by Edgar Degas 1894
'Les Courses' by Edgar Degas
Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)
Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin was a French post-Impressionist artist. Well-known for his experimental use of colour, Gauguin produced a number of striking paintings of equine subjects. Towards the end of his life he spent ten years in French Polynesia, and the paintings produced at that time are amongst his best-known works. Many include images of the islanders horses, and these are beautifully rendered in non-naturalistic colours.
'Riders on the Beach' by Paul Gauguin, 1902
'The White Horse' by Paul Gauguin
'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.
Horse Market: Five Horses at the Stake by Theodore Gericault (1816-19)
John Frederick Herring (Senior) 1795-1865
John Frederick Herring senior led a full and varied life which encompassed work as a coachman, a painter of inn signs, and later, a painter of equestrian portraits for the gentry and for royalty, including Queen Victoria herself. His three sons all became artists, and the best known of these is John Frederick Herring junior, who was also in great demand for his realistic paintings of horses.
'Horses and Ducks by a River' by John Frederick Herring, senior
John Frederick Herring (Junior) 1820-1907
One of three artist sons born to John Frederick Herring Senior, Herring Junior continued in the family tradition of specialising in equestrian subjects.
'Returning From the Hunt' by John Frederick Herring Junior
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. We are fortunate, however to have good quality photographs of these early works, and it is amazing how brilliantly the primitive artists captured movement and speed with a few simple marks daubed on a cave wall using little more than fingers, sticks, and home-made pigments.
One of the earliest known equestrian paintings
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 Chinese horses look a little rounder and shorter than European paintings of the same era.
12th Century Song dynasty hand-scroll painting by Li Gonglin
Franz Marc (1880-1916)
Born in Munich in 1880, Franz Marc was encouraged in his artistic ambitions by his father, a professional landscape painter. Marc quickly developed a striking and original style of painting which was to become much copied and admired. Marc painted numerous studies of horses during his short career, and two of these are shown below.
Franz Marc died of injuries inflicted at the Battle of Verdun where he was serving in the military. He was 36.
Blue Horse I by Franz Marc (1911)
'Small Horses' by Franz Marc (1909)
'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.
'Charge of Flowerdew's Squadron' by Sir Alfred Munnings 1918
Balthasar Paul Ommeganck (1755–1826)
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,
'A Horse' by Balthasar Paul Ommeganck
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, and is a reminder of how important horses were to our ancestors.
The Alexander Mosaic from the Museo Archaelogico in Naples
Frederic Sackrider Remington (1861-1909)
Frederic Sackrider Remington was an American painter, illustrator, sculptor, and writer whose depictions of the Old American West, included well-loved images of cowboys, native American Indians, and the U.S. Cavalry.
Remington was an exceptionally gifted artist and sculptor, and his work often includes wonderful examples of equine art. Despite dying of complications following appendicitis at the relatively young age of 48, Remington left a vast legacy of completed artworks. He was a truly prolific artist, and a larger than life character in every aspect of his life.
The Scout - 'Friends or Foes?' by Frederic Sackrider Remington
Smoke Signals by Frederic Remington
George Stubbs (1724-1806)
Born in Liverpool in 1724, George Stubbs was to become one of the most famous British equestrian artists. The well-known painting of 'Whistlejacket' at the head of this article is by Stubbs.
Stubbs had a great affinity for horses, and for animals in general, and frequently sought to depict more exotic varieties in his work. Stubbs work includes many equine portraits, and he was a commercial success for the majority of his long career. His paintings continue to be highly regarded (and extremely valuable) more than 200 years after his death.
'Mares and Foals' by George Stubbs, 1762
The racehorse, Eclipse, with his groom at Newmarket by George Stubbs
'Mares and Foals' by George Stubbs, 1763-68
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.
The Uffington White Horse is etched in chalk on a hill-side in Oxfordshire, England
Van Calraet -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.
'Two Horses' by Abraham Van Calraet
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