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Saint Martin in the Church of Oradour by Jean Burkhalter, 1953

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Wall painting, c. 400 x 250 cm, facade above the entrance, signed and dated (photograph Kirsten Bras-Ykema)

Jean Burkhalter began his career at the famous ‘Exposition internationale des Arts décoratifs et industriels modernes’ in 1925 in Paris. His image of Saint Martin is the dominating decoration of the church in the new village of Oradour-sur-Glane (Haute Vienne) in France, which is a national monument. The new village was built next to the ruins of the original village, destroyed in 1944 with its inhabitants by a SS division. Saint Martin, as a Roman soldier, is the icon of Christian help to the needy ones and can be seen here as the ultimate counterpart of the ruthless occupier in 1944. This huge representation of Saint Martin is an enduring symbol of charity next to the world’s cruelty.

The White Horse on the Beach by Joaquín Sorolla Bastida, 1909

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oil painting on canvas, 205 x 250 cm, Madrid, Museo Sorolla, inv. 00839

Sorolla painted many scenes on the beach of El Cabañal in Valencia. People swimming or lying in the sun, always in bright colors indicating the summer atmosphere and the relaxation of the people. The painting shown here has the same qualities, but rendered in the combination of a boy with his horse. The boy leads the horse out of the water and apparently they both enjoyed their bath, since their attitude is completely relaxed. We see an unusual example of the partnership between man and horse, emphasized by the high point of view in this painting.

Bernard van Leer’s Circus Kavaljos by Willy Sluiter, 1936

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Watercolor on paper, 119 x 175 mm, Auction House Onder de Boompjes, Leiden, 12 June 2011, lot no. 1

Willy Sluiter attended the gala performance of Circus Kavaljos on 13 June 1936 in the garden of ‘De Stille Hoek’ (The Quiet Corner), a residence in Wassenaar. He annotated this watercolor with all details of the event, which apparently was memorable. The residence in Wassenaar was not the residence of Bernard van Leer, who lived in Hilversum and was a wealthy manufacturer of barrels. In the 1920s Bernard van Leer developed a passion for horse riding and training of horses for circus performances. In 1935 he established his own Circus Kavaljos. The proceeds went to charities. He had Frisian, Arabian and Lipizzaner horses. In 1941 he managed to ship his whole circus via Cuba to the USA, where he spent the war years with his circus. In 1945 he came back to the Netherlands with his circus. The grey horse we see here is a Lipizzaner trained for dressage on the long rein without rider. It performs the Spanish walk with the legs lifted high and stretched. The lady/trainer is dressed in a side-saddle skirt, jacket, boots and spurs, so she will also ride a horse. Unfortunately she is not identified in the annotation. The public wears evening dress. The artist clearly expressed his enthousiasm in this little colorful work.

Stable, by Franz Marc, 1913

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‘Stallungen’, oil painting on cloth, 73,6 x 57,5 cm, monogrammed, 1913, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. 

The artist must have been fascinated by the row of heavy horses in a stable. They are tied up in stalls and separated from each other by partitions. In order to see who is entering the stable the horses have to turn their head, which is happening in this painting. On the left the row of stalls with horses makes a turn so that we see the right sides of these horses. With the tails, the hindquarters, the heads and the partitions, the artist created an effect of lines and shapes leading to a new reality. This and other paintings show how Franz Marc used horses, deer and other animals to express his view on the world: a view ultimately leading to abstraction.

French artillery horses embarking on a train by Henri Baud, c. 1919

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pastel and charcoal heightened with white on paper, 25 x 33,5 cm, signed, private collection

Henri Baud was a French artist serving as an artillery officer in the First World War. In 1915 he was on the Western Front, as an interpreter for colonel Claude Charlton of the 37th British Royal Artillery Division (information from Roderick MacLeod). The scene here shows French artillery horses on their way to the front. Most striking is the peace and relaxation of the horses during loading. They walk calmly onto the cart serving as loading bridge to the train carriage. Other horses are waiting for their turn. The soldiers must have ridden the horses at high speed to the railway station, because we see steaming bodies. The artist accurately rendered the complicated harness of the artillery horses, which pull the guns while ridden by soldiers. This historical scene has much documentary value.

Lost in the snow storm – We are friends

by Charles Russell, 1888

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cloth, 60,9 x 109,5 cm, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth TX, inv. no. 1961.144.

A group of five American Indians on horseback is lost in a snow storm. They happen to meet two cowboys with their pack horse and exchange information in sign language, making clear they do not want to be enemies. In our time we can hardly imagine the situation of horsemen riding in a snow storm hoping to find some game to hunt and then getting lost. The picture also shows how the riders could trust their horses even in the harsh weather. The American Indians liked spotted horses, like the one in front, and this color pattern is still popular among American horse people.


Orpheus Playing for the Wild Animals

by H. le Foy, 1636


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Print, approx. 19 x 11 cm, signed lower right, frontispiece in: F. Marin Mersenne, ‘Harmonie universelle, contenant la théorie et la pratique de la musique’, Paris 1636. Gemeentemuseum Den Haag.

In the Greek mythology Orpheus had the talent to bring anybody to civilized morals through his enchanting singing and playing the lyre. His talent also extended to the wild animals, as shown in this picture. The scene is used here to symbolize ‘Harmonie Universelle’, the subject of a book on the theory and practice of music. The last lines from Psalm 150 were added, in which all creatures are exhorted to praise the Lord with harp and lyre. We see the lion, buck, dog, camel, dog, monkey, cat, mouse, rabbit, deer, turtle, and the horse. The position of the horse is striking. It oversees the group and shows its strong attention to the music by the high position of its head and upright neck. In the mythological story Orpheus is playing for wild animals, but this horse with its braided mane can hardly be considered as wild. Here the horse may be seen as the animal built for freedom and speed, that nevertheless is always serving man with its wonderful ability to adapt. Even in its serfdom, the horse never gives up its joy of freedom. That quality makes the horse so fascinating for artists.

Winter in War-Time Vienna at the Opernplatz

by Franz Witt, 1917-1918

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watercolor, 37 x 57 cm, signed lower right, annotated and dated lower left, Dorotheum, sale 2 December 1999

This winter scene shows the heavy traffic on the Opernplatz in Vienna during the Great War. We see all kinds of horse-drawn carriages and commercial vehicles.  In the middle a timber bob drawn by two horses with blankets, while the driver sits on the pole, which is destined to transport heavy logs to a sawmill, now without load. Behind this vehicle a sleigh, drawn by a team of two bays, with a coachman and a couple as passengers. On the right a wagon with high boards loaded with something like coal. On the left a cab (Einspänner) with two soldiers and a dog as passengers. A team of two grey horses is visible on the background, probably Lipizzaners. An electric tramway runs along the Opera building. Horses not only occupy the street, but two sculpted horses also dominate the front of the impressive Opera building. On top of the loggia stand two winged horses ridden by the Muses Harmony and Erato, symbols for the arts performed in the building and sculpted by Ernst Julius Hähnel (1876). In this work we see a beautiful combination of the practical value of the horse for transport and the inspirational value of the horse for the arts, even in this war-time city.

 

 

The entry of Emperor Franz Joseph I to Cracow

by Juliusz Kossak, 1881

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Watercolor on paper, 390 x 570 mm, signed and dated lower right, Muzeum Narodowe, Krakow, inv. cat, nr. III-r.a. 12.774

This painting shows several pecularities. In contrast to the title, the emphasis is not on the carriage of the Emperor but on the carriage of the City President Mikolaj Zyblikiewicz. The artist has placed his carriage in the centre of the painting. Moreover his landau carriage is drawn by a team of four horses, while the more simple victoria carriage of the Emperor is drawn by a team of only two. The blue and white colors of the harness, the uniforms and the carriage are those of the city of Krakow. The four grey horses are much more conspicuous than the two bay ones which draw the Emperor’s carriage. Also the harness of his horses is regular compared with the gala harness of the grey horses. Zyblikiewicz rides with two grooms on the box seat and a rider on the left hind horse to drive the team. Franz Joseph’s horses are driven by a coachman accompanied by an adjutant on the box seat. The green and yellow Habsburg colors are visible only in the uniform of Franz Joseph and his companion, but not in the harness of his horses. Altogether it seems the City President has chosen for a state escort while the Emperor appeared in a more modest style. Miscommunication or deliberate action ?

Equestrian portrait of the young Louis XIV

by Justus van Egmont, c.1643

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oil painting on panel, 41 x 30 cm, not signed, Musée Condé, Chantilly

Louis, who in 1643 had become King of France, is portrayed as a hunter with his falcon sitting on his left hand. At that time he was 5 or 6 years old but he was already represented as a professional falcon hunter. That image belonged to his royal status. He rides a piebald (or skewbald) horse that seems perfectly trained for the young Louis to concentrate on his hunting sport. Even with a long rein on the curb bit the horse keeps its neck arched. The harness and trappings are heavily decorated. The red breast-band and crupper are provided with tassels and stones. The same tassels have been fixed to the bridle. Even the richly processed reins are decorated with tassels and loops. The saddle and saddle cloth are in the same style. The high plume on the horse’s head corresponds with the plume on Louis’s hat. The striking colors of the horse go well with the colors of the harness and the dress of the rider. We may think that decorating the horse’s harness is an exclusive royal luxury, but this human tendency has always existed in all layers of the population as far as the means would allow. In our present time we see children and adults who decorate their horses with pink brow-bands provided with stones combined with pink bandages and hold a pink whip.