The Horse in Art

November 3, 2015 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | ART, Ulalume | 5 Comments |

"Whistlejacket" by George Stubbs (National Gallery, London)

(Photo by Jose-Manuel Benito)

(Photo by Jose-Manuel Benito)

Horses are the survivors of the age of heroes.” (Theodor Adorno)

With the Melbourne Cup on today, the Race that stops a Nation (and in particular, the State of Victoria), and The Varnished Culture jaded by the whole thing (P hasn’t made money on the cup since Gold and Black), we thought a tribute to cultural nags would be nice.

They feature heavily in painting of course, from pre-history (above) and beyond:

(Theodore Gericault)

(Theodore Gericault)

P's only money-saver at the track: "The False Start" by Degas

P’s only money-saver at the track: “The False Start” by Degas

Boney borne away by 'Marengo', following Hannibal's (alleged) lead in the 2nd Punic War in 218BC (by Jacques-Louis David)

Boney borne away by ‘Marengo’, following in Hannibal’s alleged footsteps during the 2nd Punic War (Jacques-Louis David)

And sculpture even more:

Sculpture by PeterWD

Sculpture by PeterWD

A mighty Michelangelo

A mighty Michelangelo (photo Randi Hausken)

Horses have been acting humans off the screen since the medium started:

"Wilbur, send Leo Durocher to the Mets" (photo CBS)

“Wilbur, send Leo Durocher to the Mets” (photo CBS)

'The Searchers' wouldn't have got anywhere without their horses

‘The Searchers’ wouldn’t have got anywhere without their horses

Though some of the equine roles can be unusually challenging:



Sadly, 'Khartoum' is no good to race or go out to stud

Sadly, ‘Khartoum’ is no good to race or go out to stud

Then there’s the horse in literature.  The most interesting recent example is Something for the Pain: A Memoir of the Turf by Gerald Murnane.  And see also the Four-Legged Lottery by Frank Hardy.

[Without necessarily wanting to weigh-in on an emotive topic (on which we have no expertise), there has been a considerable imbroglio recently concerning jumps racing (hurdles and steeplechases).  Yes, falls are hard to watch, and jumps are intrinsically dangerous to horses (and riders) but then life is intrinsically dangerous.  As the character, coincidentally named Ryder, observes in John Godey’s novel, The Taking of Pelham 123, “If you won’t take a risk, you have to give up breathing, too.”  We guess that if jumps races were banned, the hurdlers, not much good for racing on the flat, would end up in tins of dog food.  Any self-respecting horse would freely choose the risk, and the thrill, of the race.]

Tang Dynasty, 700-750CE


  1. Reply

    Danny Beger

    November 3, 2015

    Your luck has already changed! You won second place in our sweep (and you weren't even here!)

  2. Reply

    Liars' Club

    April 7, 2016

    GO, Kingstonian!

  3. Reply

    Smash Fascists

    April 11, 2016

    You obviously own racehorses, and wilfully ignore RSPCA facts that these are older horses, doomed when they are forced into impossible hurdles.

    • Reply

      Lesley Jakobsen

      April 11, 2016

      Hi Smash, as to your various suppositions, Peter responds: "No, no, and no." And we do respect and support the RSPCA, recognising its heart is in the right place. But the Society can be wrong and we tend to think they are wrong here. And if we're going to have a civilised debate about it, let's have facts first, and speeches later.

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