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Elisabeth (Sisi), future Empress of Austria, by Carl Piloty and Franz Adam, in front of Possenhofen castle, 1853

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oil on cloth, 128 x 108 cm, signed and dated lower right corner, Dorotheum Auction House, sale 27 April 2017, lot 1138

This painting was commissioned by Sisi’s father, Max of the Bavarian House Wittelsbach, as a present to Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria, to whom Sisi was engaged. It was presented to Franz Joseph on Christmas 1853, when Sisi had just reached her 16th year. At the time of the painting she was only 15. Sisi was fond of animals and already an experienced horsewoman. Next to their signature the painters mentioned “n.d. N.”, abbreviation of “nach der Natur”, meaning “according to nature”. So her passion was made clear. Franz Joseph shared this enthusiasm and had fallen in love with this young girl. He hung this painting above his bed and it stayed there all his life, even when he and Sisi became estranged. Von Piloty made another version of this painting, without Franz Adam, and this version ended up in the collection of the Thurn und Taxis family in Regensburg. This version is widely distributed in prints and copies, but lacks the freshness of the original and differs in small details, such as the blue brow-band of the horse in the color of the rider’s scarf. The original as shown here has always stayed in the possession of the family of Sisi’s youngest daughter Marie Valerie and her descendants. From 15 April 2017 it is publicly shown at the Auction House Dorotheum in Vienna, until 27 April. Now we can observe Sisi’s youthful elegance combined with her mastery of the horse, probably an English thoroughbred. In her later life she would build up a reputation as a fearless and tireless hunting amazone who was not happy in the Viennese court life. This painting marks the beginning of an important era in Austrian history.


Eugène Verboeckhoven, A good defence, 1823

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oil on panel, 31 x 25,5 cm, signed and dated lower left, Christies Amsterdam, sale date 24 October 2006

A running horse often is a challenge for a dog that wants to pursue the horse. The horse, however, does not accept such a pursuer and becomes irritated. If the dog does not give up, the horse tries to lose its pursuer by kicking back. Then the dog feels attacked and developes fighting spirit. That is what we see here. A very good representation of two animals opposed to each other: the horse defending itself and the dog reacting by attacking. In general the horse will at first threaten the dog and not really try to hit him. Here the situation has become worse and the horse will deliver a telling blow, unless the dog reacts very fast. A rider could have avoided this situation by controlling the horse and the dog would have had no more challenge.  This scene of horse and dog is the opposite of the hunting scene with horse and dog, where they closely cooperate. That is a much more frequently chosen subject of artists while the above work is rare.


The monument, by Atelier van Lieshout, 2015

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bronze, c. 200 cm high without socle, Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin

A mysterious and fascinating sculpture in the garden of the Alte Nationalgalerie, inaugurated on 14 September 1915, on exhibit for two years only. In this sculpture the group of artists working under the name ‘Atelier van Lieshout’, has expressed their concern about the changes in our society, as they explain themselves. Exhausting supplies will lead to harshening of relations between people and increased survival instinct. Radical changes, coupled with violence, will lead to a new society, either good or bad. The artists have chosen a horse and rider with two figures, as a metaphore of this situation. We see two human figures which clearly are victims of violence represented by the horseman. The rider balances with a ball in a net, which image may indicate he is balancing interests, either in a good or in a bad direction. This sculpture is an example of the use of the horse to express strong emotions, as The Apocalyps does and Pablo Picasso did in his work. Moreover it shows the horse still is an important theme in art, also in present-day art.


A near-accident on a Polish muddy road, c. 1885, by Józef Brandt

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oil on canvas, 100 x 200 cm, Muzeum Narodowe, Cracow, MNK IIA-147 (with title ‘Meeting on the bridge’)

Here we see a team of four abreast with a carriage that pushes a team of two horses with their driver aside into a ditch. The driver of the four has crossed a bridge in a galop, not taking into account that an oncoming wagon needs space to dodge. The driver of the four does not care about the other driver, a scene that is recognizable in modern traffic. Apart from this observation the way the four horses have been harnessed is very interesting. It is the style of the classic Roman quadriga, here applied in 19th century rural Poland. The wagon on the left has a peculiar construction: a pole between the axles extends on the back, and the sideboards have been reinforced with two short poles on each side connected with the extending axles. The wagon carries a big barrel packed in straw. Everything in the most simple way. Four men ride in the wagon on the right, one of them holds a gun. The bridles have bells and the harness has other decorations. The horses show all different colors: a skewbald, a black and two bays. The team of two consists of a grey and a chestnut. The Polish painter Józef Brandt (1841-1915), educated at the Akademie der Bildende Künste in Munich, had much atttention for the details of the wagons, the horses, the riders and the scenery. See also the braided hedge on the right.


Ludwig II during a night ride in 1885, by Richard Wenig

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oil painting on cloth, 1886, 80 x 123 cm, Marstallmuseum Schloss Nymphenburg, Munich, inv. NyMar.G0126

The eccentric King Ludwig II of Bavaria rides at night in a sleigh from Neuschwanstein to Linderhof. The sleigh in baroque style, built by Johann Michael Meyer in 1872, has been provided with an electric lamp inside the crown on the ornamental front of the body. The battery was installed in the boot. Ludwig II (1845-1886) regularly made such night rides, hence he was nicknamed the ‘Night Rider’. The riders and groom are wearing costumes from one hundred years earlier. Four grey horses have been harnessed to the sleigh, the left ones ridden à la Daumont, without coachman but with a groom sitting behind the body of the sleigh. A mounted scout precedes the equipage. This fairylike scene was deliberately created by Ludwig II who saw himself as the  ‘Moon King’ and concentrated on his artistic and architectural enterprises.  The castles Neuschwanstein and Linderhof were both built by Ludwig II and the distance between them is about 30 kilometer via dirt roads. The night ride will have taken about three hours, provided the horses were well shod for trotting on the snow.

Well Done, Rallye Le Haut, by René Princeteau, ca. 1890

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oil on cloth, 160 x 130 cm, private collection

This hunting scene shows how two horses and their riders overcome a ditch in which they have landed and have to climb out of the water. A situation which belongs to the practice of hunting after hounds. These riders carry a hunting horn and direct their horses with only one hand. This is a French hunting scene, which is less well known than British sporting art. Hunting after hounds, however, has in France a similar tradition as in Britain, lasting until the present time. The artist René Princeteau (1843-1914) may be less well known than his British contempories like Joseph Crawhall, Lynwood Palmer or Alfred Munnings, but the way he rendered horses in the hunting field and in other activities was not less captivating. He participated in hunts out of Chantilly, on the invitation of the Duc d’Aumale, and used his own experiences in his paintings. Moreover his style was very original. He was the teacher of an artist, who became world-famous, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901). In the horses of Toulouse-Lautrec one immediately recognizes the style of Princeteau, but very few paintings by Princeteau can be found in museums. The Musée des Beaux-Arts in Libourne (Gironde, France), however, is completely devoted to his work.



Wojciech Kossak, The charge at Rokitna on June 13, 1915

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1934, oil on canvas, ca. 40×60 cm, Muzeum Narodowe, Cracow

This spectacular painting commemorates the historical charge of the 2nd Brigade of the Polish Legions in the Austrian-Hungarian army against the Russian infantry. This battle took place near the the village of Rokitna on the eastern slopes of the Carpathians. In 1915 this area belonged to Austrian-Hungarian province of Bukovina, now this province belongs to Ukraine. The Polish won this battle in the First World War, but lost their commander and many other men. 19 years later Wojciech Kossak painted this scene on the basis of witness accounts. It is disconcerting to see the successful jump of a horse in the setting of a life-threatening battle of horses and sabres against rifles. We are so familiar with the show jumping sport that we can hardly realize that this ability of the horse was ever used for a completely different purpose. Wojciech Kossak pictured in 1934 what we, in our time, have learned through the movie “War Horse” by Steven Spielberg made in 2011, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo from 1982.

Horse market in Mongolia by Willem Dooijewaard, 1926

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Pastel and charcoal on vellum, ca, 35×60 cm, signed and dated lower right, Singer Museum, Laren

This work gives us a detailed picture of Mongolian riders and their horses at a time when the horse (and the camel) was their only means of transport. Dooijewaard travelled all over Asia and left us with important documentation next to artistic value. Here we see the small and unelegant horses which excelled in stamina and endurance. We also see camels. To cross large deserts the camel was more suitable, but for all other purposes the horse was indispensable, especially when speed was important. It is not a coincidence that the Mongolian Derby still is a world-renownded event (which was completed by two Dutch amazons in recent years). In Mongolia also lived the wild Przewalski horse until about 1968, but the domestic Mongolian horse has a different exterior. The degree of relationship is still unclear. This work can now be viewed in the exhibit ‘Wanderlust’ in De Hallen in Haarlem, The Netherlands, until September 11, 2016.



Prince Siddartha leaves the royal palace on his horse Kanthaka

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Detail of a page from a folding album, Burma (Myanmar), early 19th century, 48 x 19 cm, British Library, London

Prior to his renunciation of the world, Gautama Buddha was the Indian Prince Siddartha. He rode the grey horse Kanthaka in all his exploits and defeated many opponents thanks to the qualities of this animal. The close relationship of Siddartha with his horse and with his groom Channa is emphasized in all Buddhist texts. Here we see Siddartha secretly leaving the palace on his horse while the horse’s hooves are supported by the gods, so as to prevent the guards from hearing the hoof beats. This is the beginning of Siddartha’s road to ascetism. Later Siddartha will dismount and send his groom and horse back to the palace. The important role of Kanthaka and the groom Channa is illustrated in all representations of Buddha’s life. It is an example of the special relationship between man and horse resulting from their achievements together. In Buddha’s life the end of this close relationship is the convincing symbol of Siddartha’s renunciation of the world. Horse and groom reluctantly accept the ending of the relationship and Kanthaka is said to have kneeled down to lick his rider’s feet as a farewell gesture. This scene is also often illustrated in Buddhist art. (Information from Dr. W.R. van Gulik is gratefully acknowledged. See also Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden, The Netherlands, where a large exhibition is devoted to The Buddha, until 14th August 2016).



Catharina II of Russia and her stallion Brillante, by Vigilius Eriksen, 1782

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oil painting on cloth, 97×88,5 cm, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, KMS3633

Csarina Catharina (1729-1796) is dressed as a man and her whole habitus is male in this painting. She wears the uniform of the Preobrazhensky elite regiment, also her body guard. Catharina holds her sabre upright as a whip, in line with the riding manuals of the time. Her seat is also exemplary. The grey stallion shows the type of the Lipizzan breed, characteristic for the barock period. Its name is mentioned as Brillante, so this is a portrait of her horse as well. Catharina was not only the ruler of Russia, but also active in the European cultural scene including the art of riding. Her equestrian portrait shows her dominating character but also her ambition to be an impressive rider. Eriksen made the first version of this portrait in 1762 for the Throne Room of the Peterhof Palace in Saint Petersburg, where it still is. The version shown here is smaller. The Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam devotes an exhibition to Catharina II and her life, starting 18 June 2016.