Horse Paintings are characterized by a sense of movement and power. The very same sense of power and movement that these creatures embody, find its way to the pictorial depictions of them.
ďAnd God took a handful of southerly wind, blew His breath over it and created the horse." - Bedouin Legend.
The wind like swiftness of the creature has inspired many painters to create works of art, which will carry the same blithe spirit. Some have been successful and some haven't but Horse Paintings always catches our attention because the sheer magnificence of the creature ensures that they are almost always picture perfect.
Horse Paintings of George Stubbs
George Stubbs an English Painters had a keen interest in horses and saw great potential in them as the subject of his paintings. Between 1756 and 1758 he spent eighteen months on an isolated Lincolnshire farm dissecting horses in order to understand their anatomy. This morbid albeit remarkable experience enabled him to corner the market in sporting pictures among a new generation of patrons who raced and bred horses.
These paintings, which he painted for his patrons, display not just a command of equine anatomy, but also sensitivity to the expressions, movements and character of horses that had not previously been seen in British art. However, Stubbs chose not to depict horses in races. He in a way eulogized them, whether they were active or in repose, to the equivalents of classical statues. This is especially noticeable in his 'Horse and Lion' pictures, which are among the most imaginative and sublime British paintings of the late eighteenth century.
Horse and Lion Series
An interesting story says that George Stubbs, during his visit to Italy, stayed in a castle at Ceuta on the Moroccan mainland opposite Gibraltar. One evening, while taking a walk, he looked out across the moonlit desert and saw a lion stalking, attacking and then finally devouring a wild horse. This very scene left an indelible impact on the painters mind and was the inspiration for the series.
However such stories are best taken with a pinch of salt and a more likely source for Stubbs's obsession with the subject, however, is to be found in a life-size piece of antique sculpture - 'Lion Attacking a Horse' - that he would have seen in the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome.
In most of the oil paintings of this series, the horse, tense with fear, is depicted with magnificent anatomical precision. By contrast the lion, possibly painted from a skin, looks rather tame.
Chinese Horse Paintings
China has a great tradition of horse paintings. Horses were prized for the same qualities prized in humans: strength, fortitude, and perseverance.
According to traditional Chinese aesthetic standards, a good horse painting must not only faithfully depict the flesh and bone-structure of the animal, but also capture its fundamental spirit
The 20 th century saw the revival of Chinese black ink paintings. Xu Beihong, who was a master of both oils and Chinese ink, was a pioneer of the movement. He painted the traditional subject of horses in Chinese ink. He painted the horse pictures vividly and accurately, capturing their spirited movements with a great economy of line.