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The reckless rider and his reluctant horse, by Erich Hösel, 1895

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bronze, ca. 200 cm high, Kolonnadenhof Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin

The rider represents a ferocious warrior of the Huns which people invaded Europe from Central Asia in the fifth century. The rider has directed his horse to a human skull lying on the ground and he takes a closer look with a grin on his face. The horse, however, is reluctant, averts its head, keeps its forelegs stiff to avoid further movement ahead.  The sculptor has created an usual equestrian statue which is in contrast to the traditional horse and rider sculpture. Here the rider is no hero who has to be glorified, but a rider who should be reviled. The horse is used to demonstrate the evilness of the rider. At the same time the sculptor showes his mastery in the position of the rider on his horse. Riding without saddle and stirrups requires athletic qualities and much sense of balance, which this rider clearly shows. The horse has been rendered in an extreme position to resist the rider’s action. With this work the sculptor proves his knowledge of anatomy and movement. It also is an example of symbolism in the shape of a very realistic scene.

Queen Elizabeth II and her horse Estimate, by Paul Benney, 2015

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oil on cloth, c. 82×100 cm, signed lower right, Jockey Club Rooms, Newmarket

Here we see how the British Queen concentrates on her horse and is unaware of public attention. She is only aware of the presence of her horse. It is also clear the horse gives all its attention to her. The occasion was, however, not at all private. Estimate had just won the Ascot Gold Cup, a race with a history of 207 years, and this day on Ascot happened to be a special Ladies Day. The Queen is known to have a very personal involvement in her race horses and the artist has succeeded to transfer this close relationship. At the time of this race, 2013, the Queen was 87 of age, and here she shows how little her age influences her style. Even when the gave more attention to the Queen than to this English thoroughbred horse, he masterly rendered the relaxation of Estimate under the attention of Elizabeth: a wonderful double portrait.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Study for the Sforza Monument, 1490

reconsidered by

Nina Akamu, as Leonardo’s Horse, 1999

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Left: drawing on blue paper, 211×110 mm, Windsor Castle, inv. RL12290    

Right: bronze statue, 7,30 m high, Hippodromo de San Siro, Milan (photo Wikipedia)

The Sforza monument was never realized by Leonardo but a model did exist before it was destroyed by French troops in Milan in 1499. During 1988-1996 the Americans Charles Dent and Garth Herrick produced a model according to Leonardo’s design and specifications, but in the foundry it could not be executed. Then the American sculptress Nina Akamu was asked to solve the problems. She concluded that with Leonardo’s specifications the statue could not be realized. Nina Akamu adapted the design, made a new model and Tallix Art Foundry realized the present impressive statue of 7,30 meter high in 1999. A copy with the same height is in Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids MI, however with the title ‘The American Horse’. Nina Akamu considers her work as a tribute to Leonardo da Vinci (Paul Liebermann in Los Angeles Times, 25 June 1999).

“tails up ! I’m in love”   and   “jumping over” by Shunyam, 1992

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two pendant paintings, acryl on cloth, 100×90 cm and 100×100 cm, signed lower right, titled and dated by the artist on backside, private collection

With her paintings Shunyam brings us in a merry world where animals dominate in playful scenes. Here horses freely express their excitement. The bright colors and clear lines may seem childish, but for the artist they are the awareness of her existence. This pair of paintings is one more proof that the important role of the horse in art is continuing in modern art and not limited to previous centuries.

 

The pack donkey, by Louis Bron (1884-1959)

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marouflé, 92×105 cm, signed lower right, Auction Van Spengen Hilversum, 14 June 2017, lot nr. 515

This portrait shows a humble animal on a large format painting which fills the whole image. This is a painting style we usually see in equestrian portraits of important rulers, but here this style is used for the simple pack donkey. Apparently the artist was fascinated by the looks of this small and strong working animal, when he made a trip to Spain. He precisely rendered the harness and the pack saddle with all its details, which are so important to avoid pressure wounds in the animal. The whip lies on the ground. Although the donkey occurs in many works of art from historic times until the present, rarely such a large portrait is devoted to this characteristic animal. Even in our time the donkey is the main workforce of many people in Africa, the Middle East, India and other areas. Motorization has not all made the donkey redundant. Brooke Hospital for Animals treats every year some hundreds of thousands wounded and sick donkeys, who serve as the sole means of transport for their owners. Therefore this donkey portrait deserves our attention as a tribute to this indispensable working animal.

 

Nicaise de Keyser,

Equestrian portrait of Willem II of Oranje-Nassau, 1846

and the

Portrait of his grey horse, 1846

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Equestrian portrait: oil on cloth, 285×210 cm, signed and dated 1846, Royal Collection, London

Portrait of the horse: oil on cloth, 69×53 cm, monogrammed and dated 1846, Venduehuis, The Hague, auction 27 May 2017, lot 1177

Willem II was portrayed because of his military actions in the Battle of Waterloo against Napoleon in 1814. The painting was meant for the Waterloo Gallery in Windsor Castle. In 1814 he was Prince of Oranje-Nassau, but the painting was made 32 years later after he had become King of the Netherlands in 1840.  The painter made one copy for the Dutch King and a duplicate copy for the British Queen. The paintings are still in these royal collections. This portrait clearly shows the characteristics of the horse which are also striking in the equestrian portrait: a broad chest, a raised neck, small ears, protruding eyes and the same grey color pattern.  This horse must have been the choice horse of Willem II when he was King. It was not the horse Willem rode in the Battle of Waterloo. That was Wexy, a bay one, which was set up and is still present in the museum of the Royal Mews in The Hague. The grey horse is likely to come from the actual stable of the King in 1846. Unfortunately we have not yet been able to discover its name, but it is a fortunate coincidence that the portrait of this horse showed up in The Hague after 171 years. (Litt. H. Hymans, Notice sur la vie et les travaux de Nicaise de Keyser, Bruxelles 1889)

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.