The Horse: From Cave Paintings to Modern Art

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9780789210180: The Horse: From Cave Paintings to Modern Art

From the caves at Lascaux to the European race tracks of Degas to the American West of Frederic Remington, the horse has never ceased to inspire the human imagination. Once omnipresent—on the battlefield, in agricultural work, and in transport—horses have little by little disappeared from our immediate environment, but they remain fixtures throughout our museums, atop pedestals in our town squares, and in the landscapes of memory.

Transcending genres, places, and eras, specialists on the history of the horse and its representation in art create an ideal panorama on the subject, guiding us through the rich legacy of The Horse: From Cave Paintings to Modern Art. With these scholars we cross the principal continents from east to west and from prehistory to the present day, examining an ever-surprising gallery of images that illustrate how dearly horses have been prized by all human societies fortunate enough to encounter them.

The artistic styles represented in this book offer something for every taste. There are cave paintings and sculptures, medieval illuminated manuscripts and photographs, depictions of battle, and scenes of leisure. Uccello, Rubens, Van Dyck, Velásquez, Géricault, Stubbs, David, and Picasso are among the 137 artists featured in this in-depth study. As the more than 300 images in The Horse diversely illustrate, the horse is as beautiful an animal as it has been useful—indeed, central—to the development of human society.

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About the Author:

Nicolas Chaudun is an art historian and editor.
Yves Christe is a professor of art history at the University of Geneva.
Henri-Paul Francfort is a director of research at the C.N.R.S., Archaeology of Central Asia.
Jean-Louis Gouraud is a writer and editor.
Emmanuelle Héran is a curator at the Musée d’Orsay.
Jean-Louis Libourel is the Curator-in-Chief of Patrimoine.
Camille Morineau is a curator at the Centre Pompidou.
Christine Peltre is a professor of art history at the University of Strasbourg.
Daniel Roche is a professor at the Collège de France.
Denis Vialou is a professor at the Museum of Natural History in Paris.
Marc-André Wagner is a historian and Germanist.
Michel Woronoff is an honorary president of the University of Franche-Comté, where he is also a professor emeritus.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Foreword

First of all, let’s celebrate! Give a whinny of delight, a snort of enthusiasm. A book on the horse in art—finally! Here at last is proof of what we have long surmised, without ever quite daring to say it. Not only is the horse the animal that has most inspired artists from Cro-Magnon man to Picasso; even more remarkably, this creature is undoubtedly the most frequently represented living being in art after man himself, from the very earliest times. The horse alone is the subject of a full third of all prehistoric iconography. This is a strange phenomenon, and stranger still is the horse’s persistent presence in our own era when it has disappeared from our daily lives. We need only recall the works of Maurizio Cattelan, Patrick Van Caeckenbergh, Berlinde de Bruyckere, and Jessica Johnson Papaspyridi to realize how profoundly the horse continues to fascinate the artistic imagination.
From cavemen, who regarded the horse simply as a game animal, to contemporary creators of art installations, who treat the horse as a creature of fantasy, there is a continuity, a historic continuum that is amply demonstrated by the contributions to this volume. These chapters provide a perspective on the horse that is focused not so much on the subject’s timelessness, but rather on its universality, by tracing a geographic continuum. As this book demonstrates, the horse is not just a Western artistic subject. It is ubiquitous in the East, throughout both Middle Eastern and Asian art, as well as in the art of Africa. Furthermore, the horse was just as consistently popular as a subject in these regions as in the West, from prehistory to our own era. Juxtaposing evidence, varying examples, and transcending genres, geography, and eras: this endeavor is not far removed from that of André Malraux’s Musée imaginaire (Museum Without Walls) in the 1950s. When we apply this approach to a single theme—the horse—we are able to create a kind of ideal museum, a longtime dream of mankind. Although there are any number of horse museums in the world (in the United States, France, Switzerland, Ireland, Russia, and Japan), they rarely present anything other than saddles, bits, stirrups, spurs, and whips. They merely display the countless devices that man, dazzled by his own ingenuity, is so proud to have designed to subdue his “noblest of conquests.”
This sense of pride, it should be noted, is somewhat ill-placed. As evidenced by the ornamentation of the Chauvet Cave, man was capable of representing horses thirty thousand years ago. However, it took a remarkably long time—250 centuries at the very least—for him to domesticate the animal. What’s more, the domestication was less than perfect, as humorously noted by Tristan Bernard when he recounted is misadventures with the “noble soliped, which Buffon erroneously judged definitively subdued.”1
These museums restrict themselves to exhibiting the array of tools we have busily contrived to master a mighty creature that is capricious, willful, and unpredictable; their purpose is to subdue the horse and make it serve our own purposes. Thus, these equestrian museums are really no more than little humankind museums, where the biped demonstrates that he does not truly value his quadruped companion for its own sake. Man admires his ability to subject the horse both figuratively and literally; that is, to put it beneath him.
This survey is conceived from the opposite point of view: hence our noisy celebration! Rather than marveling over the talents of the artists, this book focuses on their model: the horse itself.
It has been a very long time since anyone embarked on such an enterprise. To the best of my knowledge, the most recent effort in France dates back to the 1920s. However, Lucien Guillot’s work,2 which is remarkable for its rich presentation, earnest tone, and novel approach, is still primarily a narrative. In a sense, it is modeled after Histoire du cheval par l’iconographie, which itself is fairly close in spirit to the legendary Contribution à l’histoire de l’esclavage by the French army officer Richard Lefebvre des Noëttes.3 Another fifty years elapsed before the appearance and publication of a book bearing some resemblance to this one—with, however, some significant differences.
There was a single author, John Baskett, and he adopted a strictly British point of view—which can hardly be held against him, he was British, after all. Most important, however, was his continued focus on chronology. Published simultaneously in London and Paris,4 this handsome volume of impressive dimensions is most notable for the abundance and quality of its reproductions.
For the book’s preface, Baskett called upon Paul Mellon, a celebrated collector—and equestrian—who referred to “sporting painting” and “sporting art” when alluding to the book’s subject matter. J. Froment-Meurice, a sculptor who has since fallen into relative obscurity, wrote the preface for Guillot’s book and referred to “animal artists.”
Perhaps we should ask our men of letters, our poets, and the revered members of the French Academy to search out terminology that is more graceful and more accurate, to encompass all of those works whose primary subject is the horse. The expression “sporting painting” can legitimately be used to refer to hunting or racing scenes, but it is not appropriate for battles. “Animal art” is both too general, since it can refer to a representation of any species whatsoever, and too reductive: sometimes an artist places the horse at the center of his canvas, while actually seeking to create a portrait of a nobleman, or depict a society, an era, or an actual event.
Should we refer to horse art? Equine art, as someone has suggested, or still better, horseman art? Cavalier art? The debate is not as pointless as it might initially appear. How can we find a single term to describe a range of works that are indeed diverse, while still showing such unity in their inspiration?

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