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Category Archives: Picture of the Month

Giuseppe Garibaldi and Vitorio Emanuele II shake hands on horseback: the historical agreement between nationalists

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‘ The encounter of Teano on 26 October 1860 ‘, lifesize bronze  group by Oreste Calzolari in Fiesole, inaugurated on 17 June 1906 (photographs by Kirsten Bras-Ykema)

In the present world where disagreements between countries and regions dominate, where tensions are being cultivated, it may be refreshing to pay attention to this magnificent monument. In a complicated strategy for the unification of Italy, two patriots decided to drop disagreements and to join forces in the interest of their common country. The sculptor used the position of the horses coming from two different directions to maximal theatrical effect. The riders hold out their hands to each other and so bridge the distance between them and the horses. Everything in this encounter has symbolic significance which in this way is strongly emphasized and recorded for posterity. The gestures of Garibaldi and Vitorio Emanuele will also be influenced by some chivalry which historically belongs to the basis of horse riding. This attitude seems somewhat forgotten but is an important peace making tool. In summary, we see a beautiful equestrian monument with much value for the present time.



Adoration by the Magi, by Jan Brueghel (I), 1600-1619, with a striking grey horse and a sitting dog


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oil on copper, 20,7 x32 cm, Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp

This Nativity scene lacks the traditional donkey and ox but in stead the artist has chosen to give a role to the horses of the three Wise Men from the East. On the right the grey horse with the blue saddle attracts attention. Behind this one the two other horses are visible. On the left a grey horse pushes its head against a man in a blue jacket. Of course the main subject is Maria showing her Child Jezus to the Magi and the many other spectators. Yet the grey horse is an important part of the painting and the artist rendered with care the saddle, the breast plate, the crupper, the bridle and the stirrup leathers, which all are made of the same gold-colored material. The blue saddle with high pommel and cantle could well represent a saddle from the Near East. The horse does not have Oriental looks and may be the portrait of a horse he knew in his own environment. The artist was, however, not an expert in painting horses. The pasterns of the four legs are far too much bent through. Between the grooms of the Magi also a dog is sitting, which shows the type of the bloodhound and could be the portrait of familiar dog.



A spectacular painting with a special creative force, by Józef Chelmoński, 1881

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oil on cloth, 275 x 660 cm, Muzeum Narodowe, Sukiennice Building, Kraków

This gigantic painting dominates the Gallery of 19th Century Polish Art in Kraków. The width of 6,6 meter exceeds that of most paintings in the more famous Galerie des Batailles in the Château de Versailles. The paintings in Versailles are monumental in the history of France, but this Polish painting only renders the exploit of one man, who enjoys the running of his four horses. He has chosen a four-in-hand team, harnessed next to each other, like a Roman quadriga. It is not a race against competitors, only a race for individual pleasure. The whole painting is designed to impress the viewer  with speed and action. The frontal point of view on the level of the horses’ noses makes that the viewer becomes scary. The harness of the horses is decorated with small shiny ornaments and the big round buckles are markers of the movement. Another important aspect of this painting is the position of the horses’ legs. In 1881 the stereotype position with stretched legs in the flying gallop was still common. Chelmoński, however, did not use the stereotype rendering, but applies a new position with one or two legs bent over. This posture is not correct either (the scientific proof of the real movements dates from 1874), but very suitable to give the impression of extreme action and speed, better than the conventional stretched legs. Here the artist has added a new feature to the possibilities of the horse painter.



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 artist 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.