Horses have appeared in works of art forever.
The horse appears in the prehistoric cave paintings in Lascaux, which are said to be around 17,000 years old.
Prehistoric hill figures carved in the shape of the horse include the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire in England; a classic example of the curious tradition of horse carvings on hill-sides, which began thousands of years ago and continues into the present time.
Equine images were common in ancient Egyptian and Grecian art, and in later Roman work, with horse-drawn chariots often depicted. The Greeks and the Romans invented and revered the equestrian statue; the best surviving example is the statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome. The Horses of Saint Mark are the sole surviving example from Classical Antiquity of a monumental statue of the Quadriga.
The Renaissance period saw a resurgence of the horse in art. Painters of this period who portrayed horses included Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael,Titian and Albrecht Dürer. In 1482 the Duke of Milan commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to create the largest equestrian statue in the world, a monument to the duke’s father. Sadly, Leonardo’s horse was never completed, (until it was replicated in the late 20th century.)
During the Baroque era the tradition of equine portraiture was firmly established, with artists such as Rubens, van Dyck and Velázquez portraying regal subjects atop their mounts. Equine sporting art also became popular during this era in Britain, when the tradition of horse racing emerged under Tudor patronage.
The horse appears less frequently in modern art (aside from Helen Frankenthaler’s works), probably because it is no longer a significant mode of transport nor is it a useful implement of war. Most modern representations are either of famous contemporary race horses, artwork associated with horse racing, or art associated with the historic Cowboy and Native American traditions of the Southwest. In the United Kingdom depictions of fox-hunting and nostalgic pastoral scenes involving horses continue to be made
It’s not difficult to see why the horse is such a timeless study; its incredible form and musculature, its rebellious and wild streak, even beneath the bridle, its poetic grace and sensitivity, along with its capacity to carry a man and a load with great speed, presents an intriguing and challenging subject for the artist.
Suzanne Betz who shows at Taos Blue on Bent Street is a contemporary painter who continues to use the horse in her captivating work. I’ve featured Suzanne’s horses here before, but when Sue Westbrook at Taos Blue showed me these paintings, I thought they’d be perfect for September in Taos, especially during my Bent Street series (where we just visited the Ortenstone Delattre Gallery, Governor Bent’s former stables), where I’ve been spinning a few Wild West yarns on my stroll down the street. This Wednesday we visit the home of the ill fated Governor.
Suzanne graduated from the Corcoran School of Art (now the Corcoran College of Art & Design) in Washington, D.C., and lived on the East Coast until she discovered Taos.
The horse has always been a favourite study of hers, appearing in sketches and paintings, but it wasn’t until she relocated to the West, that she began to truly explore those “early flights of imagination” with her first horse, a retired polo pony.
She paints many things besides horses – her second home in Hawaii provides rich inspiration as well, evident especially in her glorious, if restrained use of colour. She’s an exquisitely elegant artist – the gesture and disciplined use of both colour and line are refined and designed to conjure her subjects skillfully. Almost magically revealing the very soul and essence of these horses. Their fierce loyalty to the herd, along with their free-spirited nature is gorgeously captured and portrayed in these pieces hanging at Taos Blue.
For more on Suzanne and her work please visit Taos Blue at their site linked below.
Images (of Moon Glow#1 & #2 and Easy Crossing #1 & #2, thanks to Taos Blue and Suzanne Betz