Throughout the annals of art history, few subjects have captured the imagination and artistic prowess of creators as horses have. Their majestic presence, grace, and power have served as an eternal muse for artists across the globe. From ancient cave paintings to contemporary masterpieces, the portrayal of horses in art has transcended time and continues to captivate audiences even today. In this blog, we embark on a journey through history to explore the profound relationship between horses and art, discussing several famous historical horse artworks that have left an indelible mark on the artistic landscape.
Why are Horse Paintings so Popular?
Horses have been a common subject in art for centuries, and their presence as a muse and symbol in artistic expression can be attributed to several compelling reasons. First and foremost, horses possess an inherent grace which makes them visually captivating. With their sleek bodies, flowing manes, and powerful muscles, horses exude an elegance that lends itself to artistic representation. Throughout history, artists have been drawn to the challenge of capturing the horse's dynamic form, attempting to convey its strength and agility through various mediums. Be it a stunning horse painting on canvas or a magnificent horse sculpture, horse artwork continues to inspire artists and art lovers alike.
Furthermore, horses have played a significant role in human history, serving as essential companions in various domains such as transportation, agriculture, and warfare. As such, they have become symbols of power, freedom, and endurance. Horses have been depicted in art as noble steeds ridden by heroes, as loyal companions in battle, and as vital participants in human endeavors. Horse artwork allows us to explore the complex relationship between humans and animals, highlighting themes of companionship, dependence, and mutual respect.
Horses have held significant cultural and symbolic importance in various societies across the world. From ancient civilizations to modern times, these majestic animals have played diverse roles and have been deeply embedded in the cultural fabric of different regions. Here are a few examples of the varied significance of horses in different cultures.
Greece: In ancient Greece, horses were revered as status symbols that represented power and wealth. Horses also held a central role in mythology and were associated with gods and heroes. The winged horse Pegasus, ridden by heroes like Perseus, symbolized freedom, creativity and power. Additionally, Horse-driven chariot races were an extremely popular sport during the Olympics of ancient Greece. Artists in ancient Greece expressed their appreciation for the majesty of horses by creating horse artwork in a variety of mediums. They created horse art in various mediums such as vases and sculptures. The artists commonly depicted scenes of horses in combat, chariot races or during their daily grooming.
China: In Chinese culture, horses have long been revered and are seen as a symbol of power, success, and nobility. The horse holds a special place in Chinese art and literature. During the Tang Dynasty period, which was considered the golden age of Imperial China, horses were prized for their role in society. Horses were vital to military strength, and they were also valued for their aesthetic appeal. During the era of the Tang dynasty, the government grew its horse population from 5000 to over 700,00 by setting up public stud farms. This led to a significant growth in the cultural appreciation of horses at the time. China then adopted the Iranian horse sport of polo, which led to horses becoming even more desirable and cherished. All of this meant that Tang dynasty artists were eager to express their love for horses. Potters of the Tang dynasty took to creating beautiful sculptures of horses with vibrant and colourful glazes. Today, Tang dynasty horse sculptures are one of the most iconic and recognizable works of ancient Chinese art.
India: Horses have a long history in India spanning from their practical use to their role in Hindu mythology. The Rajputs are one of many royal families in India who prized horses for their beauty and strength in warfare. The Rajputs are known for breeding a very special breed of horse known as the Marwari horse. The Marwari is a hardy horse that was often used in battle. They are known for their uniquely shaped inward curving ears. Horses are also commonly found in Hindu mythology. For instance, the Hindu God of the sun Surya rides in a chariot that is drawn by seven horses. Indian art also reflects respect and appreciation for horses. The Bhimbetka rock shelter site in central India features rock art as old as 12,000 years. Horses are amongst the many subjects depicted in the prehistoric rock art at Bhimbetka.
Mongolia: Mongolia is known as the land of the horse. The Mongolian horse is highly revered for its endurance and adaptability to harsh climates. Across the vast steppes of Mongolia, horses have been a vital part of nomadic life for centuries. Moreover, the growth of Genghis Khan’s empire was largely due to the use of horses. Genghis Khan used horses both for effective warfare and for speedy communications. Horses continue to be an important part of modern Mongolian culture. A large proportion of the Mongolian population continues to live a semi-nomadic life, and they support themselves by breeding horses, cattle, camels, sheep and goats. The horses are used for hunting, travelling, herding and even sport. Additionally, Mongolia engages in ‘Naadam’, which is a yearly festival filled with several sporting activities including horse racing.
Native Americans: On the other side of the world, in Native American cultures, horses were introduced by European settlers and quickly became an integral part of indigenous life. Horses provided Native Americans with a new means of transportation, hunting, and warfare. They symbolized freedom, and tribes such as the Plains Indians developed a deep spiritual connection with horses, often incorporating them into their religious ceremonies. Interestingly, Native American communities would refer to horses as ‘big dogs’. This is because there were no horses in the region before European settlers brought them in, hence Native American communities did not have a word for horse in their lexicon.
These examples merely scratch the surface of the diverse cultural significance of horses. From their spiritual symbolism to their practical use in daily life, horses have left an indelible mark on the cultures that embraced them. Their symbolism, strength, and grace continue to inspire awe and admiration, making them an enduring and treasured symbol worldwide.
Famous Horse Paintings and Artworks
Here are just a few famous examples of famous artworks and paintings that were inspired by horses:
- The Horse Fair by Rosa Bonheur: Rosa Bonheur's masterpiece The Horse Fair remains an iconic work in the realm of equestrian art. This horse painting on canvas was completed somewhere between 1852 and 1855. This grand painting portrays the energy and splendor of a bustling horse market in Paris, featuring meticulously rendered horses and their human handlers. This horse market took place at the Boulevard de l’Hôpital. Located right near the Boulevard de l’Hôpital is the asylum of Salpêtrière, which is actually visible in this painting on the left side of the background. To sketch this masterpiece, Bonheur visited this site twice a week for over a year and a half. She even disguised herself as a man during her sketching sessions at this site to avoid any unwanted attention. Bonheur's stellar attention to detail and her ability to capture the essence of equine strength and beauty earned her international acclaim as a leading horse painter of her time. The Horse Fair stands as a testament to Bonheur's unrivaled skill in portraying horses and solidifies her place in the canon of art history.
- Whistlejacket by George Stubbs: George Stubbs' Whistlejacket was painted around 1762 and is considered to be one of the most important British paintings of the 18th century. Stubbs created this horse painting on canvas for the Marquess of Rockingham. The Marquess had this painting commissioned to commemorate the life of her Arabian chestnut stallion named Whistlejacket. Whistlejacket was a famous and successful racehorse. One of Whistlejacket’s most significant victories was a 4-mile race in 1759 at York, which came with a prize of £2,000. There were rumors that Whistlejacket had a feisty personality and was tough to handle. By 1762, Whistlejacket had been retired from the racing circuit. This life-sized portrait of Whistlejacket against a plain background embodies the realism and precision for which Stubbs is renowned. The horse's sleek physique and intense gaze reflect its strength and spirited nature, making Whistlejacket one of the most exceptional equestrian artworks of all time.
- The Horse in Motion by Eadweard Muybridge: Eadweard Muybridge's groundbreaking photographic series known as The Horse in Motion was created between 1878 and 1887. This photographic series revolutionized the way in which artists and viewers perceive horses. At the time, the movement of horses was not understood as well as it is today. Horse enthusiasts used to believe that there were moments during a horse’s stride when all four of its hooves are off the ground. Many paintings of the time used to portray horses in an elegant pose known as the ‘flying gallop’, where they are in mid-air with all of their limbs fully straightened and extended. However, they had no definitive way of proving that horses moved like this since a horse’s movement is too fast for a human eye to discern. Hence, in 1872, California Governor and horse aficionado Leland Stanford reached out to photographer Eadweard Muybridge to help prove this theory. In 1877, Muybridge used a complex multiple-camera setup to capture a horse known as Sallie Gardner. This resulted in a series of images which definitively proved that there are indeed moments in a horse’s stride where all four hooves are airborne. However, this motion did not mimic the famous ‘flying gallop’ pose that people thought it would. Instead, these photos proved that horses actually look quite awkward when they are airborne, with some of their limbs partially retracted and others extended. This discovery had an impact on future art, as artists slowly stopped depicting horses in this inaccurate ‘flying gallop’ pose.
- The Derby Day by William Powell Frith: William Powell Frith completed The Derby Day in 1858. This oil painting immerses viewers in the excitement and frenzy of a horse racing event. It is a colossal panoramic painting that depicts a vibrant scene at the Epsom Derby, capturing a multitude of characters from different social classes. Although the horses in this painting are kept in the background, this piece represents how horses were an integral part of social and cultural gatherings. With meticulous attention to detail, Frith transports the audience to the heart of the derby. There are three main events or scenes taking place in this oil painting. On the left, we see a group of men making bets on the tricks being performed by a thimble rigger. A red-faced countryman is seen standing further to the left of this thimble rigger as he contemplates joining in on the betting. We see his wife holding him back to prevent him from betting. In the centre of the painting, an acrobat is waiting to perform along with his son. However, the young son is distracted by a large picnic that is being laid out. There are many spectators seen crowding behind while enjoying drinks in their carriages. On the far right, we see a man standing against a carriage as a young barefoot girl attempts to sell him flowers. This painting is a representation of how horses were at the heart of Victorian-era culture. Horse racing was a major obsession and past-time during the Victorian era. The day of the derby was considered to be a full day of entertainment and relaxation. People from all classes attended and embraced the idea of a whole day dedicated to celebration and momentarily forgetting the stresses of daily life.
Buy Horse Art Online in Dubai
If you are looking to buy a horse painting on canvas in Dubai to adorn your walls, you will have a plethora of options to choose from. Dubai is a blossoming hub for artists and art collectors alike. Several large art fairs such as Art Dubai and World Art Dubai take place every year, bringing together the arts community and nourishing the local arts ecosystem. Dubai is home to several stunning art galleries and shops where you can find all styles of art.
However, why spend time and money travelling from shop to shop in search of the perfect horse art piece, when you can do so from the comfort of your own home? This is where online art galleries come into play. Thanks to technology, there are now several Dubai-based online art galleries that allow you to browse artworks online and have them delivered to your doorstep. Choosing to buy art online in Dubai rather than going to brick-and-mortar galleries means that you can browse hundreds of options and compare prices at your own pace before you make a decision.
Artezaar.com is an online art gallery based in Dubai that has a full collection dedicated to horse paintings. Click here to view Artezaar’s collection of horse artwork. If you are looking for a magnificent horse painting on canvas, Artezaar’s collection has it all, including abstract horse paintings, realistic horse paintings, horse oil paintings, alcohol ink horse paintings, etc. Artezaar is passionate about promoting the local UAE arts community, and its website features 1200 original artworks from 130 artists across the UAE. Indeed, if you are looking to buy art online in Dubai, online art galleries are the best option as they offer both variety and convenience.
It is clear that horses have long held a revered place in art, serving as both symbols of power and sources of inspiration for countless artists throughout history. As we reflect on the enduring legacy of equestrian art, we recognize the profound impact horses have had on humanity's artistic expression. To this day, artists continue to draw inspiration from horses and all things equestrian. You too can bring a bit of equestrian magic into your home by purchasing a horse painting on canvas for your walls!
Blog post written by Artezaar.com Guest Blogger Shreya Alagramam