Hoofbeats and Heartbeats: the Horse in American Art

August 21 to November 21, 2010



Extended labels from the exhibition


JOHN TRUMBULL American, 1756-1843
Washington at Verplanck's Point, NY 1782, Reviewing the French Troops after the Victory at Yorktown, 1790
Oil on canvas
Lent by Winterthur Museum; gift of Henry Francis du Pont
John Trumbull was an untrained artist when he went to England in 1783 to study with expatriate American painter Benjamin West. He returned as an accomplished history painter and brought with him an ambitious series of paintings of the Revolutionary War complete except for the likeness of George Washington. Trumbull knew the new president well, having served as his aide-de-camp during the siege of Boston. Washington posed for Trumbull no less than fourteen times in 1790, allowing the artist to create many accurate portraits, including several equestrian works. This particular painting was created as a personal memento and gift for Martha Washington.
Washington was famed for his equestrian skills. Thomas Jefferson called him "the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback." Trumbull depicts Washington dismounted at a key crossing on the Hudson River near New York that was bitterly contested throughout the war. Behind him, French forces pass ceremonially through two ranks of American troops as they make their way from the ferry landing to the general's headquarters. Washington ordered the display to express his gratitude and respect for the French, who had helped to defeat the British at Yorktown and secured needed arms and equipment for the American army.
EDWARD HICKS American, 1780-1849
Washington at the Delaware, 1849
Oil on canvas
Lent by Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia;
gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch
Pennsylvania-born Edward Hicks was one of the most popular Quaker ministers of his day, traveling widely to preach sermons that drew large crowds. He supported his religious work and growing family by working as a sign, furniture, and coach painter. He saw these arts and crafts as a means to "get an honest living," but there were critics within the Society of Friends who viewed overly ornamental works as opposed to the Quaker virtues of simplicity and plainness. Later, Hicks was able to unite his spiritual beliefs and art, creating paintings that contained religious messages. He is most famous for his many versions of "the Peaceable Kingdom," illustrating a prophecy from the book of Isaiah. He also made his own adaptations of famous American paintings, like Thomas Sully's Washington's Passage of the Delaware of 1819 that he knew from an engraving. Hicks made small variations, but remained largely loyal to Sully's composition.
The painting depicts an event that marked a turning point in the Revolutionary War for the American forces, who, having been routed by the British in New York and New Jersey, were seemingly near defeat. During a bitter winter storm on the night of December 25, 1776, Washington led his troops across the icy Delaware River to launch a surprise attack on Britain's Hessian mercenaries in Trenton, New Jersey. The victory at the Battle of Trenton sharply increased American morale and the bravery of Washington and his army in treacherous conditions became an emblem of American patriotism.
ANNA HYATT HUNTINGTON American, 1876-1973
Sybil Ludington, 1961
Lent by National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution
Sybil Ludington, the sixteen-year-old daughter of a Revolutionary War militia company colonel, sprang into service on the night of April 26, 1777, when British forces sacked nearby Danbury, Connecticut. Ludington mounted her horse and rode forty miles in pouring rain, warning residents of the enemy's approach and calling military volunteers to service. She arrived home at daybreak a hero, having mustered the regiment despite the dangerous threat of British soldiers and roaming bandits.
Anna Hyatt Huntington, a specialist in equine and animal sculpture, shows Ludington holding the stick used to pound on doors and encourage her horse, Star. Although the sculpture includes a proper bridle and sidesaddle, a written account reports the girl rode with only a halter and "in a man's saddle." The ride took place two years after Paul Revere's famous midnight ride to Lexington, Massachusetts, and Ludington is often referred to as a "female Paul Revere" (though Revere's route was a much shorter twelve miles!). This work is a smaller version of a larger-than-life-size bronze installed in Carmel, New York, the area where the historic event occurred.
MAYNARD DIXON American, 1875-1946
Wild Horses of Nevada, 1927
Oil on canvas
Collection of Karges Family Trust
At the age of sixteen, Maynard Dixon sent two sketchbooks to his artistic idol, Frederic Remington, whose subsequent praise encouraged Dixon to become an artist. After working as an illustrator in San Francisco, Dixon left to "go east to see the West," traveling first to the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico and, later, to Oregon and Nevada.
In 1906, Dixon's studio was destroyed in the great San Francisco earthquake and resulting fire. He then moved to New York City, where he was exposed to new styles and modern artistic movements from Europe, some of which, particularly French Impressionism, influenced the use of color and space in his compositions. Dixon returned to California, where he was married for a time to photographer Dorothea Lange. Throughout the rest of his career, Dixon made numerous solitary journeys throughout the West studying the plains, deserts, and mesas. The resulting works capture the area's unique spirit and inherent sense of freedom in Western landscapes like Wild Horses of Nevada.
CHARLES SCHREYVOGEL American, 1861-1912
An Unexpected Enemy, 1900
Oil on canvas
Lent by the Rockwell Museum of Western Art, Corning, New York
Charles Schreyvogel earned fame as a painter of the American West in the early twentieth century, but his knowledge of the frontier culture was in many ways second-hand. After seeing a traveling performance of Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show in New York, he made a trip west to Colorado and Arizona. There, he made sketches and took photographs, interviewed former soldiers, and collected artifacts. Schreyvogel brought all of this material back to his Hoboken, New Jersey, studio, where he composed scenes like An Unexpected Enemy, which expanded the image of a "wild West."
Frederic Remington, the preeminent Western artist of the era, publicly criticized Schreyvogel's art, dismissing it as inaccurate and pastiche -- a hodgepodge of other artworks. Schreyvogel rose above the debate as many supporters defended his work, including President Theodore Roosevelt.
Many of Schreyvogel's compositions feature a trademark artistic technique of sharp foreshortening, or having an object or figure appear to move straight toward the viewer. Here, he makes us feel as if the frightened horse will gallop right out of the picture, enhancing the sense of danger and drama of the scene.
WILLIAM MORRIS HUNT American, 1824-1879
The Flight of the Night-The Horses of Anahita, undated
Collection of The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio;
gift of the Friends of American Art 1978
The legend of Anahita, the Persian goddess of the moon and night, inspired Boston artist William Morris Hunt throughout his career. In the ancient poem that was his source, Anahita drives her team into darkness as she flees the approach of dawn. Hunt worked the theme into the design for a monumental mural commissioned for the assembly chamber of the New York state capitol, which he completed in 1879. For the finished mural, Hunt planned The Flight of the Night-the Horses of Anahita as a foil to The Discoverer, a mural which represented the explorer Columbus bringing the dawning light of civilization to the New World.
Hunt created a number of sculptural studies (including this one) of the three horses plunging forward, in order to resolve his difficulty in portraying the explosive action of the middle horse. One biographer reports the artist was only able to complete the scene after he witnessed the "fiery and untamable" movement of a friend's big, black horse rearing violently as it struggled to break free from its groom.
Hunt, an affluent horse lover, spent time in Paris studying with academic artists including the famed French animal sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye.
WILLIAM HERBERT DUNTON American, 1878-1936
The Horse Wrangler, 1928
Oil on canvas
Lent by San Antonio Art League and Museum
William Herbert "Buck" Dunton, a contemporary of Frederic Remington, was in many ways his heir as an illustrator and painter of the West. He worked in the first years of the twentieth century creating Western scenes for magazines and newspapers. A native of Maine, he was lured to settle permanently in the West, moving to Taos, New Mexico, in 1914. He later became one of the founding members of the Taos Society of Artists.
In The Horse Wrangler, Dunton portrays the business of rounding up and caring for the ranch horses, a less exalted assignment than that of cowboy or cowpuncher, the rustic popular hero of the West. The horse wrangler arose before the cowboys to gather the horses and spent much of his time endlessly and thanklessly pursuing the rogues and stragglers. The Horse Wrangler won Dunton acclaim in the 1928 Texas Wildflower Competitive Exhibition, a well-publicized art event largely funded by self-made oilman Edgar B. Davies, which nationally promoted Texas art.
Dunton's images of the working horses of the West (like McMullin, Guide, also in the exhibition) changed stylistically in the 1920s when he was influenced by the Regionalist artistic styles that developed partly in response to the Great Depression.
JOHN GEORGE BROWN American, born England, 1831-1913
Her Past Record, circa 1900
Oil on canvas
Lent by Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts; anonymous gift 96.11
John George Brown moved from England to New York City in 1853 to study at the National Academy of Design. Working in a realist style, he became a leading painter of American genre subjects. Many of his early works depict children in the gritty city, but, later in his career, he painted rural subjects. One theme he returned to frequently was that of old folks, but here he goes a step further to include an old horse. The title, Her Past Record, suggests a tall tale is being spun about the old gray, clearly a nag. Are we to believe this horse had an illustrious past on the racetrack or that the owner has a penchant for storytelling?
Probably made on a summer sojourn in Vermont, the painting is one of numerous barn interiors that Brown painted between 1897 and 1908.
JOHN STEUART CURRY American, 1897-1946
Belgian Stallions, 1938
Oil on panel
Lent by National Academy Museum, New York
John Steuart Curry, along with Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, was a leader of the Regionalist art movement of the 1930s, which turned away from European modernist trends in favor of depicting rural scenes in America's heartland. Curry was born in Kansas and grew up on his family farm. He studied in Chicago and Paris, but his art remained firmly focused on the Midwest throughout his career, even when living and painting in Connecticut.
In 1936, Curry assumed a position as the first artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's innovative rural art program, which promoted art and encouraged amateur artists in agricultural areas. In this post, Curry canvassed the region, meeting artists and organizing exhibitions. In the process, he found local subjects, including livestock in the agricultural program, of artistic interest. Curry's Belgian Stallions originated from a drawing that illustrated the April 1938 cover of Wisconsin Country Magazine. It was based on sketches that the artist made of the university's prized draft horses, on campus and at the 1937 state stock show.
EDWARD TROYE American, born Switzerland, 1808-1874
A Study of Lexington, undated
Oil on wooden panel
Private collection
Although mainly an itinerant artist, Swiss-born Edward Troye settled for periods of time in the Bluegrass counties of Kentucky and in Alabama, working as a prominent painter of racehorses. He became close friends with leading Thoroughbred breeders. By the time he painted this version of the record-setting Lexington for the Alexander family of Woodburn Farm, he had already completed numerous portraits of the horse.
Lexington, sired by Boston, came to Woodburn in 1857 after Robert A. Alexander purchased him for the princely sum of fifteen thousand dollars, even though the horse had gone blind at the end of his racing career. Alexander's pricey gamble paid off. From 1857 until his death in 1875, Lexington produced hundreds of winners and led the American Sire List sixteen times, a record still held today. Most Thoroughbreds, including Man o'War and recent sensation Rachel Alexandra, can be traced back to him.
Troye's work helped to document the lineage and foundation sires of Thoroughbreds. Many of his portraits were published as prints in the first racing magazines of the era and in the volume Race Horses of America, which Troye published in 1867.
American, 1847-1898
St. Julien, Champion Trotter, Driven by Orrin Hickok, undated
Oil on canvas
Lent by Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame, Goshen, NY
Nicholas Leighton, born in Maine, became a well-known painter of horse portraits after moving to Boston. He gained recognition through mass-marketed lithographs of his paintings, particularly those produced by the famous printmaking firm Currier & Ives. The company capitalized on the great popularity of harness racing in the nineteenth century and priced their prints for the average person, bringing not only the names of the period's most notable trotters into American middle-class homes, but also their pictures.
Foaled in 1869, St. Julien (the son of Volunteer and Flora) spent the early part of his life pulling a milk wagon in Orange County, New York. He was sold for $600 to James Galway of New York City, who named the gelding after seeing the name on a bottle of wine. Currier & Ives first distributed Leighton's print in 1880 after Orrin Hickok drove St. Julien to a world championship, trotting the mile in two minutes and twelve and three-quarter seconds, a record they themselves broke the following year.
WILLIAM HERBERT DUNTON American, 1878-1936
McMullin, Guide, 1934
Oil on canvas
Lent by Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas
Late in his career, William Dunton often depicted older cowboy "types," whose jobs were beginning to disappear as the West became more modernized. Here, he paints John T. "Curley John" McMullin, a hunting guide who initially came to New Mexico from Oklahoma (where he was a good friend of Belle Starr) as a government trapper. Very popular in the Taos area for his cheery disposition and kindness, written accounts of his funeral confirm how important his horse was to him and others like him: "Mac's favorite horse was led behind the funeral coach with three horsemen leading the procession and with about 15 horsemen following. At the cemetery, Doughbelly Price, an old friend of Mac, delivered the last words of the old cowpuncher while seated on his horse."
DEBORAH BUTTERFIELD American, born 1949
EastWest, 2002
The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky; purchase: The Collectors Fund 2003.1
Montana sculptor Deborah Butterfield concentrates her art almost exclusively on revealing the expressive gesture and presence of horses. She aims "to reflect how much a horse is part of his environment" by using found materials that retain their own essential history. She assembles these materials into evocative sculptures. Her earliest works were huge plaster mares, followed by a series of horses made of sticks and mud, scrap metal, and steel. In more recent years, she has begun making horses that are characterized by an open configuration and an emphasis on linear elements, as if she were drawing in space. Her current works -- including EastWest -- are unique bronze casts. Constructed from found wood and organic materials, Butterfield casts each horse in sections, welds the bronze sections together, and then individually patinas each element to resemble the weathered pieces of wood that served as her inspiration.

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