Horses have been the subjects of artists for many hundreds of years with popular images of horses both ridden, wild and under harness. Each artist has their own fascination with the horse and portrays them in their own unique style.
History Of Horse Art
The history of horse art is a fantastic journey that began as humble cave paintings and progressed into wonderful works of art many of which have thankfully been beautifully preserved over many hundreds of years.
Cave art is when images have been painted onto the walls and ceilings of caves. One of the earliest examples and most well known areas for Equine Cave Art is that from the caves in Lascaux, France where images of horses are clearly visible and are around 16000 years old. These paintings would have been produced by using red and yellow ochre, manganese oxide and charcoal. The areas that they were created were often deep into caves on the wall and ceilings and so have been wonderfully preserved. The paintings clearly show horses grazing and running both individually and in herds as well as with other animals such as cows, bison and stags.
The Egyptians had wall paintings of horses many of which were of pharaohs in chariots often displaying the horses leaping and raring to go, many of the scenes glorify the warrior or the hunter scenes. Horses were also used in Egyptian Hieroglyphs.
It was on a Grecian vase that Greek Mythology comes alive with the painting of Pegasus the winged horse who was tamed by Bellerophon, the vase was preserved and can be seen at the Tampa Museum of Art. Wall paintings of horse drawn chariots and of warrior scenes of battle were also produced during this time.
During the 15th century artists such as Hans Burgkkmair and Lucas Cranach , among others, created art works of horses in battle and jousting scenes as well as of processions and working the land, many of these were extremely ornate.
Religion was the main focus of the artists during this time with horses often being included in many of the paintings. Well known paintings include St Martin and the Beggar by Simone Martini, St George and the Dragon by Lucas Cranach the Elder and The vision of Saint Eustace by Pisanello.
During the Renaissance religion was not the sole focus of the artist and this enabled artists to continue with more classical artistic endeavours. Paolo Uccello is well known for many excellent equine paintings such as a portrait of Sir John Hawkwood mounted on his horse and St George and the Dragon.
Leonardo da Vinci carefully studied horses the detail of which can be clearly seen in his drawings. Horse art often displayed rulers or famous people mounted on horses that were rearing or about to spring forward, an example of this can be seen with the artists Velasquez, Giulio Romano and also Titian (1490-1576) who portrayed the Emperor Charles V in such a manner and also Raphael painting of St George and the Dragon.
By the mid 15 to 1600's artists such as Peter Paul Rubens had totally harnessed the techniques used to bring the horses leaping and surging action to life, a great example of this would be his own painting the Battle of the Amazons.
During the Baroque era paintings of horses increased in popularity and often showed the horses with long flowing mane and tail in excellent condition and often in a classical dressage pose. Well known artists of the time were Rubens, Caravaggio, Le Brun and Velasquez. Excellent examples of the time is that from Velasquez who painted the infant Prince Don Balthasar Carlos on his black pony and Philips Wouwermans painting The Grey.
As the sport of horse racing took hold so did the paintings of famous winning race horses, which were commissioned by the owners.
Art In The 18th Century
Equine art continued to flourish throughout the 18th Century with specific emphasis on sporting art such as hunting and racing scenes. Well known painters were John Wootton (late 1600's to mid 1700's) and James Seymour (1702-1752) who did numerous paintings of some of the wealthiest owners most prized horses.
The most well known and respected painter of equine art in the 18th century has to be George Stubbs (1724-1806) who was able to capture each horses personality and uniqueness and glorify them in his paintings. George Stubbs studied horses for eight years and compiled a book of equine anatomy to assist him with his understanding of the equine body. This allowed him to produce anatomically correct and very powerful portraits, George Stubbs did not give his paintings a background, instead allowing the horse to be the main focus of the painting.
The use of carriage horses also became popular in the 18th Century and Thomas Gooch was a popular artist portraying the horses with their carriage and all their elaborate harness. Thomas Rowlandson also loved to both draw and paint horse and carriage and many pieces showing the varying types of carriage that were available at the time.
Art In The 19th Century
Equine art continued to flourish with not only a continued interest in equine sporting art such as polo, racing and hunting but also with more relaxed paintings of horses in stables, barns and out in the fields.
Claude Vernet produced paintings from the Napoleonic years of battle scenes as well as many fine hunting scenes.
The artist Ben Marshall was greatly influenced by George Stubbs and produced many paintings in his style, Marshall lived near Newmarket and subsequently painted many paintings of race horses and also hunting scenes.
James Ward produced many hunting and racing paintings along with more relaxed scenes of horses in farmyards and out in the fields. Ward painted the wonderful grey horse Adonis Favourite Charger Of King George III.
French artists Theodore Gericault and Eugene Delacroix both produced many well known and powerful pieces of equine art. Theodore Gericault produced the well known painting of the Epsom Derby and many pieces of his artwork were of racing scenes where he would brilliantly capture the speed and atmosphere of the race itself.
Edgar Degas is well known for painting racing scenes and was also a gifted sculptor. Degas was one of the first horse painters to use photographic references for both study and knowledge.
The British artist John Dalby produced mainly hunting scenes often with the horses jumping and also some racing paintings.
American artists such as Edward Troye, George Catlin and Frederick Remington produced many wonderful paintings inspired by subjects such as the Mustang horse, cowboys, racing and of the Native Americans.
Art In The 20th Century
During the 20th Century Sir Alfred J Munnings (1878 to 1959) an acclaimed painter working in England was also elected president of the Royal Academy in 1944. He specialised in equine subjects in particular horse racing as well as portraiture and rural life. One of Munnings most well known paintings was of "The Red Prince Mare" which was sold at Sotherby's in New York for a record $7,848,000 in 2004.