Equine art—on view during the FEI World Equestrian Games in Tryon, N.C.—is a breed unto itself.
By Page Leggett
Booth Malone, a horse artist in Columbus, Ga., got the best advice of his career from his wife, Frances. “Don’t,” she cautioned, “paint a horse no one would buy.”
A horse rendered in oil or acrylic – just like one in real life – should be shiny, toned and regal. Malone puts it this way: “Polo ponies can’t be chubby.”
A horse is probably the hardest animal to portray correctly, he said. An artist can’t fake knowledge of life in and around a stable. He must know the animal, its anatomy and the sport – from dressage to racing. “You can’t paint a polo match if you don’t know how it’s played,” he added.
Frances Malone is a horsewoman from way back. Her husband wasn’t raised around horses, but he became fascinated with the equestrian life she introduced him to. Not just at the steeplechase or on a hunt – but behind the scenes, too.
“It’s important to get the gear and the context right,” Malone said. He finds as much inspiration in the paddock as at the racetrack. But there’s something else essential to equine art. “You’ve got to avoid cliché,” Malone said. “There are only so many times you want to paint horses crossing a finish line. Only a small portion of the art-buying market wants a painting of Justify winning the Triple Crown.”
– WIN, PLACE OR (ART) SHOW –
Malone isn’t just a horse artist; he’s president of the American Academy of Equine Art. The group will host its 38th Annual Open Juried Exhibition in Tryon, N.C. during the World Games. The Tryon exhibition will include 48 works (selected from around 200 submitted) by artists who “come at horses from a variety of perspectives,” he said.
Kathie Friedenberg, for instance, is a veterinary-surgeon-turned-sculptor working in bronze. She studied human and equine orthopedics at the University of Pennsylvania.
Her entry in the show, “Tilting at Windmills,” flies in the face of Frances Malone’s advice. Yet it works – beautifully – because of the artist’s skill and because it’s based on a great work of literature. The 16.5” x 19” x 5.5” bronze, one edition of five, depicts Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote astride Rosinante (sometimes spelled Rocinante), his war horse.
“Don Quixote was living in a state of unreality, believing himself to be a knight following noble endeavors,” Friedenberg said. “His wonderful war horse… was, in reality a broken-down old plug, hence his appearance in my sculpture.”
In the story, both man and beast are past their prime, although the protagonist isn’t aware of that. “Rocín” in Spanish literally means a work horse. Rosinante is hardly the majestic steed Don Quixote imagines.
Friedenberg’s art is informed by her previous career as a vet. “Not only is the knowledge of anatomy – and how it adjusts with movement – fundamental to creating any animal art, but familiarity with the behavior and body language of the subject is essential. For me, making the animal appear alive is of the utmost importance.”
– THE ROMANCE OF HORSES –
Why have horses always fascinated artists?
“There’s a lot of romance surrounding the horse,” Malone said. “The horse is probably the most versatile animal man has ever domesticated. The dog may be man’s best friend, but horses have been used for transportation, in war, in farming” and for leisure pursuits. “From the Pony Express to the stagecoach, people have relied on horses.”
“The horse is probably the most versatile animal man has ever domesticated. The dog may be man’s best friend, but horses have been used for transportation, in war, in farming and for leisure pursuits.”
Horses in peak condition, that is. Chelsea Dickson, auction coordinator at Cross Gate Gallery in Lexington, Kentucky, said great horse art is anything that “makes the horse come alive [on canvas] and do whatever it was bred to do.”
When it comes to buying horse art, Dickson advises: Buy what you like without getting hung up on the potential investment value. And Frances Malone’s artistic advice to her husband should probably extend to anyone considering horse art: Bypass the Old Gray Mare in favor of a horse that looks like a champion.