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Man riding a mule in front of a cotton field by William Aiken Walker, c. 1885

oil on board, 20.3 x 30.5 cm, signed lower left, auction Christie’s, New York, 15-05-2019

This painting is characteristic for the work on the cotton fields in the Southern states of the USA. All work was done by the black population and mainly mules were used for transport of the cotton crop and people. William Walker made many scenes related to the work on the cotton fields, all of them with black people and many with mules. Cotton pickers, wagons loaded with cotton bales, cabins with families, all these topics give us a good idea of the important cotton industry of that time. The man in this painting may be a supervisor on a plantation. Striking are the reins which consist of skeins of cotton, and even the stirrups have been fixed with skeins of cotton to the pommel of the saddle, which is a most peculiar construction. The reins have some unusual extra loops, probably meant to tether the horse to a fence. The entire equipment is very simple but the rider is completely at ease on his animal. The history of the black Americans on horseback is now the topic of a travelling exhibition ‘Brief History of Black Horsemen in Racing’ in the USA, on loan from James Madison’s Montpelier in Virginia.

Elisabeth van Aldenburg Bentinck riding Uranus by Johan Kuypers, c. 1928

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Watercolor, 140,5 x 114,5 cm, signed lower left, Amerongen, Kasteel Amerongen

Here we do not see a beautiful horse with its rider, but a really good combination of the two. Elisabeth van Aldenburg Bentinck (1892-1971) lived at the family castle and estate in Amerongen where many domestic animals were kept, nature was conserved and agriculture practiced, already for many generations. The chestnut horse she rides is Uranus, which was given to her by the former German empress Auguste Victoria, wife of Wilhelm II. When the emperor and empress left Germany after the defeat of the German army in 1918, they lived for almost two years in the Amerongen castle as guests of the Bentinck family, before they moved to Huis Doorn. In 1919 she had given Uranus (1905-1935) to Elisabeth as a token of appreciation and the new combination turned out to be a very happy one. Elisabeth rode Uranus every day and the painter was also commissioned to made a portrait of the horse without rider. The horse has its tombstone in the garden of Kasteel Amerongen. In the second world war, when horses were requisitioned by the German occupier, Elisabeth managed to hide two riding horses in the basement of the castle. Although she was married to Sigurd von Ilsemann, adjutant of the former emperor, she remained loyal to the Netherlands. In Amerongen Elisabeth established an animal shelter, checked animal welfare on farms and undertook educational activities for children. (Lit.: J.C. Bierens de Haan, D. Splinter, L. Gerretsen, Deftige dieren, Amerongen 2019)

Fuente de los Caballos by J. Pernas, 1825

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Stone and marble, c. 800 cm high, Plaza de Platerias (photograph Kirsten Bras-Ykema)

The four seahorses are being raised in the water. High above them a woman figure (one of the Muses ?) holding the star of Santiago de Compostela, dominates the composition. New students of the university use to come here with their patron to be initiated by immersing their head in the water. The function of this fountain is clearly derived from the mythological spring Hippocrene on the Greek mountain Helicon, activated by the hooves of the winged horse Pegasus. Pegasus was raised by the Muses on this mountain. Those who drank the spring water were inspired by the creative genius of the Muses. So it happened to Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) who was inspired on this spot to write his poem ‘Danza de lúa en Santiago’ (Dance of the Santiago moon) in the Galician language. Moreover the horse plays an important role in his work, for example in ‘Canción de Jinete’, ‘Romancero Gitano’ and in his play ‘La Casa de Bernarda Alba’.

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.