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10 Equine Works of Art

Horses have a long history as human companions, athletic partners and methods of transportation. They have galloped into battle, pulled carriages and wagons, jumped over poles and dashed down ribbons of racetracks. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that there is a wealth of art to pay homage to this historical symbiosis between the artist and the horse. Let's take a look at some incredible works of art that depict horses: 
1. Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius, AD 175
Strangely proportioned equestrian statues were popular following the collapse of the Roman Empire. They were often depicted as some knight's legs swinging down from chubby ponies riding into battle. This statue, however, wasn't melted into coins because the man in the statue was mistaken for Constantinople, the first Christian Emperor. Thankfully, this standard for equestrian statues has survived. It was erected in 175AD, and remains to be ideal for equestrian statues. 
2. Albrecht Dürer, The Small Horse, 1505
This artist was notable for his masterful carvings and etchings, many of which were of animals. Although he completed an entire series of etchings on horses, this statue is particularly noteworthy in that instead of an athletic show of grandiosity and freedom, the subject is restrained. This effect is emphasized by the tight and symmetrical composition and the sword which perspective-wise seems to be skewering the little horse in place. Furthermore, a great degree of emphasis has been placed on the sensuality of this piece, as the effect of the horse is stifling. 
3. El Greco, Saint Martin and the Beggar, 1597-1599
El Greco's technique is highly recognizable and an ideal of the Mannerist style that followed the Renaissance, with long limbs and deep, jaded colors. While the appearance of the painting may seem stretched, the horse is proportionate to its rider. The painting is a depiction of Christian Saint Martin Tours, who halved his cloak and gave it to a beggar. 
4. George Stubbs, Whistlejacket, 1762
The subject of this painting could be described as a typical foal of privilege. He was a chestnut thoroughbred born into a long line of famous racehorses and boasts a career that saw him beaten only four times with an early retirement at 10. This notorious horse was painted by George Stubbs, an equine specialist who studied anatomy to capture a better knowledge of equine physiology. The painting is notable for the lack of a landscape in the background. This draws more attention to the unbridled beauty of his subject. 
5. Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1781
The title of this painting, The Nightmare, has Freudian implications and may also be interpreted as a pun. While your attention may be immediately drawn to the sprawling woman, who appears to be sleeping in ecstasy, or maybe to the mischievous incubus who sits atop her torso, the rather startled looking mare in the left-hand corner is rather mysterious. The painting harkens back to German mythology regarding night visitations and the dangers of sleeping alone. The painting was the subject of intense interest upon its reveal. Supposedly, the sleeping woman was painted in the image of Fuseli's former lover, who was scandalized by her portrayal as the victim of a supernatural sexual predator and a particularly voyeuristic horse. 
6. Eugène Delacroix, Horse Frightened by Lightning, 1825-29
This painting has a romantic feel to it. Wild emotions and physical contortions rage both in the dramatic, natural backdrop and the equine subject. The effect of the storm is heightened by the materials used to create this painting: watercolor which gives a hazed effect to this work of impressionism. 
7. Edwin Henry Landseer, Shoeing, 1841 
This is one of Landseer's lesser-known animal works, the most famous being the lion statues at Trafalgar Square. Landseer was hailed as a prodigy in his younger days, having his own work exhibited at just 13 years old. However, his work ethic was temperamental and his extreme nature meant that he would sometimes paint at incredible speed. It was said that he could even do so with two hands at a time. It's possible that he painted the head of 'Old Betty' with one hand and her tail with the other. But this extremism meant that he would procrastinate for years at a time if he was compelled to. Such was the story with this painting: It was commissioned to be the mare and her foal, but by the time he had gotten there, the foal had outgrown her. 
8. Rosa Bonheur, The Horse Fair, 1852-53
To gather all the ambience and create the sketches for The Horse Fair, Rosa Bonheur would go to Paris horse market on Boulevard de l’Hôpital dressed as a man so that she wouldn't attract unwanted attention. This is arguably Bonheur's most famous work and one of the most popular paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It was first exhibited unfinished at the Paris Salon of 1853, where it met great acclaim.
9. Edgar Degas, At the Races, 1869
In this painting, Degas incorporates many different styles of painting into one portrait. As you can see the landscape is notable, but it is not overwhelming. The painting delivers insight into the lives of the patrons of the races and is part of an impressionistic series depicting a weekend at the races, an event that showcases tradition, congregation and family life.
10. Pablo Picasso, Boy Leading Horse, 1906
This painting was part of Picasso's rose period in the early twentieth century, which is characterized by warm citrus tones, circus performers and gaiety. The attention to primitivism is shown in the mask-life faces of many of the performers and is seen later in the Demoiselles D'Avignon. 
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Related Topics: art, paintings, sculpture, horses, quine
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