It’s reasonable to assume that the vast majority of us, whether art collectors or not, have come across horse paintings at some point in our lives. Actually, now that you think about it, it was probably more than that one occasion, because horse paintings are undoubtedly among the most popular works of art.
In this blog we will cover the history of horses in art, which goes back to thousands of years and pays a wonderful artistic homage to this magnificent creature- horse. Horses have been historically present in the tale of man, as both a vital asset and a strong companion whenever war or peace has transpired. They have been painted in various settings such as battlefields, beautiful landscapes, royal estates, and busy marketplaces.
Consequently, artists from all over the world have discovered their muse in the form of a stallion and have painted them in the most exquisite way possible.
Paintings of Horses: A Brief History
Even though the earliest equestrian imagery may not be the same in terms of its merit as an artwork according to today’s standards, it does depict the long-standing association between horse and man which shall be relevant across time and space. The first known example of horse paintings dates back to Lascaux caves in France, which contain 16,000-year-old ancient murals. Horses were a common sight in prehistoric Grecian and Egyptian work, as well as Roman art, because their anatomy was explored and examined meticulously. However, they could only be seen as part of the mainly religious settings in Byzantine and Christian art.
The Renaissance period in the 14th century saw a huge revival, with artists such as Titian, Mantegna Andrea, Raphael, and even Leonardo da Vinci portraying them. Through the canvases of artists like Peter Anthony van Dyck, Paul Rubens, and Diego Velázquez, this tradition continued throughout the Baroque era.
A lot of painters were invited to the races when equestrian sports was introduced (first by the Tudors, followed by the French). One of them was Edgar Degas, an Impressionist painter, who, along with Henry Thomas Alken, Benjamin Marshall, John Frederick Herring Sr., James Ward, and others, painted several early racing images.
George Stubbs became known as “the horse painter” in the 18th century after spending one and a half year dissecting equine carcasses and producing several anatomical paintings of the animal. However, the most famous horse paintings to date were done by Romanticism French artists Eugène Delacroix and Théodore Géricault. They both perfectly depicted a horse and its glory in their respective artworks.
Horse paintings appeared in movements like as Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism, at the turn of the twentieth century. Wassily Kandinsky, Francis Picabia, Joan Miró and Jean Metzinger, all painted horses, showing their different styles, meanings and settings. Horses were rarely used as part of a historical theme in most of these pieces, but rather as part of an aesthetic vision, often owing to their beauty alone.
What’s So Special About Horses?
Horses have successfully managed to make their way in for over ages now, regardless of the historical time, culture, religion, and tradition. Many artists have been fascinated by the complexity of the steed, their remarkable speed, and the structure of their muscle. So, they painted horses in military art which represents horses as invaluable assets in the cavalry of knights.
They were frequently regarded as extremely precious, whether by the poor who used them for labor and transportation or the wealthy who saw them as a symbol of grandeur and authority. Horses have been man’s companion for millennia, and man continues to admire the nobility of spirit, virtue, and fortitude of this magnificent animal in ways that will always incorporate art in its various manifestations.
So, what happened to horse paintings in this modern day and age? They can be found in murals, such as those created by Pixel Pancho, Alexis Diaz, or Nychos, but they appear to be uncommon today among mainstream artists when it comes to canvases. Fortunately for us, we can marvel at the masterpieces of the past whenever we want!
Jody Miller is a professional photographer specializing in Horse Photography, Equine Photography, and Equestrian photography. Her work can be viewed online here in her gallery section, and she is also featured at these Arizona Galleries: Van Gogh’s Ear Gallery on Whiskey Row in Prescott, AZ and Coops Coffee House at Talking Rock Ranch. Several images are also available at The Phippen Western Art Museum