Content watched by Whocopied.me

Equestrian Art: 13 of the Most Famous Horse Paintings of All Time

*This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Please read my disclaimer for additional details.

Sharing is caring!

From the moment humans were able to create art, horses have been a constant subject of representation, study, and fascination. From the earliest forms of pictorial art ever found, to equestrian portraiture in the 18th century, to historical paintings in the 19th century and beyond, Western art has a long and rich tradition of equestrian painting. Keep reading as we take a look at 13 of the most famous paintings of horses of all time.

Painting NameArtistWhere You Can See It
Chinese HorseUnknownLascaux, Montignac, France
WhistlejacketGeorge StubbsThe National Gallery, London, England
Horse Frightened by a LionGeorge StubbsThe Tate Gallery, London, England
Napoleon Crossing the AlpsJacques-Louis DavidMusée national du château de Malmaison, Rueil-Malmaison, France
The Horse FairRosa BonheurThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA
The 1821 Derby at EpsomThéodore GéricaultThe Louvre Museum, Paris, France
Horse Frightened by LightningEugène DelacroixMuseum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Hungary
The ParadeEdgar DegasMusée d’Orsay, Paris, France
Two Riders on the BeachMax LiebermannPrivate Collection
Blue Horse IFranz MarcStädtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus and Kunstbau, Munich, Germany
A Start at NewmarketSir Alfred MunningsPrivate Collection
The Red Prince MareSir Alfred MunningsPrivate Collection
Grey GeldingLucian FreudPrivate Collection

Chinese Horse

  • Artist: Unknown
  • Date: 15,000 to 13,000 B.C
  • Medium: Minerals used as pigment on cave walls
  • Estimated value: N/A
  • Where you can see it: Lascaux, Montignac, France

The Chinese Horse, so named due to its resemblance to horses in the Chinese painting tradition, is one of the earliest representations of horses in art. Chinese Horse is a Paleolithic cave painting found in the caves at Lascaux, first discovered on September 12, 1940. The caves contain thousands of depictions of animals, human figures, and abstract forms. 

The Lascaux caves were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 and were open to the public in 1948. In 1963, the caves had to be closed; the exhalations of the around 1,200 visitors entering the cave every day were causing irreversible damage to the paintings. 

Nowadays, you can see a replica of this painting at Lascaux IV, a complete replica of the caves built in 2016 near the original site in Montignac, France. (source)

Whistlejacket

  • Artist: George Stubbs
  • Date: 1762
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Estimated value: $18 million (1997)
  • Where you can see it: The National Gallery, London, England
Whistlejacket by George Stubbs

Whistlejacket is perhaps the most famous horse painting in art history. Measuring an incredible 115 by 97 inches, the painting is a portrait of real-life racehorse Whistlejacket.

Charles Watson-Wentworth, second Marquess of Rockingham, commissioned renowned English sports painter George Stubbs to do the magnificent portrait.

The most distinguishing characteristics of Whistlejacket are the fact that this famous racehorse is shown on its own, without any background, saddle or bridle, which confers the painting a sense of freedom and majesty.

Stubbs’ masterpiece has also been praised by the way he captured the individuality and character of Whistlejacket, painting not just “a horse” but a specific horse with a real personality. (source).

In 1997, the Rockingham family sold Whistlejacket to The National Gallery of London for £11 million, about $18 million. (source). 

Horse Frightened by a Lion

  • Artist: George Stubbs
  • Date: 1763
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Estimated value: N/A
  • Where you can see it: The Tate Gallery, London, England

As we have already seen in his portrait of racehorse Whistlejacket, English painter George Stubbs is considered to be one the most important horse painters in European art history, both due to his prolific contribution to the genre, and his mastery of the anatomy and spirit of the animal.

Horse Frightened by a Lion is one in a series of paintings by Stubbs representing the theme of the “horse and the lion,” and is considered to be one of a pair with Horse Devoured by a Lion, also from 1763, which shows the moment the lion has defeated the horse, its teeth already biting into the poor horse’s flanks. (source).

In both paintings, Stubbs elevates the representation of the horse, transforming the animal into a heroic, noble figure. (source).

Napoleon Crossing the Alps

  • Artist: Jacques-Louis David
  • Date: 1801
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Estimated value: N/A
  • Where you can see it: Musée national du château de Malmaison, Rueil-Malmaison, France

Napoleon Crossing the Alps, by the French painter Jacques-Louis David, is considered to be one of the best-known portraits of General and future emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte.

The painting commemorates Napoleon’s victorious military campaign against Austria in June 1800. The moment David chose to depict shows Napoleon leading his troops across the alps in a majestic Arab stallion. (source). 

For this heroic equestrian portrait, David makes the horse as much a central figure in the painting as Napoleon himself. The exact moment depicted shows Napoleon pointing towards the summit on his rearing horse, the wind blowing both Napoleon’s hair and the horse’s mane.

And while Napoleon refused to sit for the portrait, he did provide David with instructions to paint him as “calm on a spirited horse.” (source). It was all part of the myth-making aspect of portraiture painting. Another detail that wasn’t quite as accurate? Napoleon crossed the Alps on top of a mule, not a horse.  

The Horse Fair

  • Artist: Rosa Bonheur
  • Date: 1853
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Estimated value: $1.4 million
  • Where you can see it: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA

Rosa Bonheur was one of the most well-known women painters of her time, having gained celebrity through her realistic portraits of animals, including bulls and horses.

To paint The Horse Fair, Rosa Bonheur prepared for a year and a half, attending the actual horse market twice a week to sketch. However, Bonheur soon found that it wasn’t an easy enterprise: she was constantly harassed for being a woman alone at the market.

Rosa Bonheur eventually obtained permission from the Paris police to be allowed to wear men’s clothes so she could focus on her work without attracting attention. (source). 

In 1887, after having passed through a few owners, American millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt purchased the painting as a gift for the Metropolitan Museum. (source). The purchase value of The Horse Fair in 1887 was $53,000 which in today’s dollars would represent over $1.4 million. 

The 1821 Derby at Epsom 

  • Artist: Théodore Géricault
  • Date: 1821
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Estimated value: N/A
  • Where you can see it: The Louvre Museum, Paris, France

French Romantic painter Théodore Géricault is best known for his 1819 painting The Raft of the Medusa, a work which caused shock and controversy when first exhibited at the Paris Salon due to its portrayal of the real-life event of the wreck of The Medusa, a French frigate carrying soldiers off the coast of Senegal.

What is less known is that Géricault was also a dedicated painter of horses, creating numerous sketches and paintings of the animals throughout his career. (source).

In 1821, during a year-long stay in England, Géricault was commissioned by horse merchant Adam Elmore to paint a racing scene. The result is The 1821 Derby at Epsom. (source).

While the painting is famous for its dynamic depiction of four riders and their horses racing at full speed, the arrival of photography later in the century would prove that Géricault’s rendering of the horses with both front and hind legs extended in mid-air was inaccurate.

Some art historians suggest, however, that this may have been intentional: Géricault was merely imitating a particular English style of racing paintings of the period. (source). 

Horse Frightened by Lightning

  • Artist: Eugène Delacroix
  • Date: 1825-1829
  • Medium: Watercolor
  • Estimated value: N/A
  • Where you can see it: Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Hungary

A leading figure of the French Romantic movement, Eugène Delacroix was a sought-after historical painter. This meant the artist was proficient painter of horses, a common component of this genre of painting.

What differentiates Horse Frightened by Lightning from other paintings of the period is that similar to George Stubbs’s Whistlejacket, he has chosen to portray the horse on its own as the main subject of the picture. (source). 

The result is a work of great symbolic power, all centered around the figure of the horse, which, as the curators at the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts explain, becomes “all that the horse stood for in the eyes of the Romantics: power, nobility, untamed passion, and intensified emotions.” (source)

The Parade

  • Artist: Edgar Degas
  • Date: 1866-1868
  • Medium: Petrol painting on paper on canvas
  • Estimated value: N/A
  • Where you can see it: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

French Impressionist painter Edgar Degas is best known for his paintings of cafés, urban life, and most of all, dancers. What most art lovers may not know, is that Degas was also a prolific painter of horses, a subject matter he fell in love with after a visit to Normandy, a traditional horse breeding and horse racing region of France. (source). 

The Parade, also known as Race Horses in front of the Tribunes, shows a group of riders on their horses at the start of a race. The focus of the painting is on the colors, lights, and shadows of the scene to convey the excitement of the event.

Considered a sophisticated and exciting leisure activity, horse racing remained a popular subject in painting throughout the 19th century. Focused as he was on capturing modern urban life and all its leisure, horse races were a natural and frequent subject for Degas. (source). 

Two Riders on the Beach 

  • Artist: Max Liebermann
  • Date: 1901
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Estimated value: Sold for $2.9 million in 2015
  • Where you can see it: Private collection

This extraordinary work is known both for its artistic merits as well as its tragic past.

Painted by German Impressionist painter Max Liebermann, Two Riders on the Beach was one of the thousands of paintings looted by the Nazis during World War II. In 2012, police in Germany raided the home of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, best known as “Hitler’s art dealer.”

The painting was restituted to the Liebermann family, who decided to sell it. Sotheby’s estimated the value of the painting at around $865,000. However, in 2015 a private buyer bought the painting for $2.9 million, three-times the initial estimate.(source).  

Blue Horse I

blue horse I
  • Artist: Franz Marc
  • Date: 1911
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Estimated value: N/A
  • Where you can see it: Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus and Kunstbau, Munich, Germany

Franz Marc was one of the leading figures of the German Expressionist art movement. He is known for the symbolism in his use of color and how he brought this sensibility to the paintings of animals, especially horses. (source).

Blue Horse I, one of his most popular paintings, shows Franz Marc’s color symbolism in full: blue represented masculinity and spirituality, yellow, femininity, while red represented primal nature and the violence in the world.

The horse in Blue Horse I brings together the nobility attributed to the horse to the spirituality of the blue to create an image that represents the triumph of spirituality over the material. (source).

A Start at Newmarket

  • Artist: Sir Alfred Munnings
  • Date: 1937
  • Medium: Oil on panel
  • Estimated value: $500,000 to $750,000
  • Where you can see it: Private collection

British Impressionist painter Sir Alfred Munnings dedicated most of his artistic career to the painting of horses. Munnings grew up in a mill, in Suffolk, England, and spent his childhood sketching horses and the rural scenes that surrounded him. (source).

A Start at Newmarket is one of Munnings many masterworks depicting horses at the races. In particular, Munnings was fascinated with the start of the race, as it allowed him to capture the nervous and contained energy of the horses and riders, and “epitomized the power and beauty of the horse, capturing the moment of stillness before the race begins.” (source). 

The Red Prince Mare

  • Artist: Sir Alfred Munnings
  • Date: 1921
  • Medium: Oil on panel
  • Estimated value: $7.8 million
  • Where you can see it: Private collection

This imposing work, measuring 40 by 60 inches, depicts Rosemary, Sir Alfred Munnings’s wife’s mare. The scene Munnings chose to paint shows Rosemary being saddled before a race, and the work is known for its use of color to show the luminous coat of the mare against a crisp February sky. 

The Red Prince Mare is not only considered a masterpiece of the genre, but it is also Munnings’s highest priced painting ever. In 2004, while at auction at Sotheby’s, it sold for $7.8 million, almost double its initial estimated price. (source). 

Grey Gelding

  • Artist: Lucian Freud
  • Date: 2003
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Estimated value: N/A
  • Where you can see it: Private collection

Lucian Freud was a British artist who was predominantly known for his expressive portraits and self-portraits. He was born in Berlin and was the grandson of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. (source). One of Freud’s most famous sitters is Queen Elizabeth II; he painted her portrait in 2001.

Freud was also a keen student of animals and many of Freud’s portraits present the sitter accompanied by their pets. Freud had a life-long love of horses and in the early 2000s, he frequently visited the Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre in London to ride and draw.

It was during that period that he painted the striking Grey Gelding portrait. Though the value of Grey Gelding has not been made public, a recently discovered incomplete sketch of a horse at the Centre is estimated to be worth between $50,000 and $75,000. (source). 

Resources

When learning about art history, it is important to consult a wide variety of sources. These are the sources used in this article.

April Lee

I've owned horses for 25 years and have a particular love for gentling wild horses. I write these articles to help others learn more about horses. If you enjoyed the article please take a moment to pin it to Pinterest or share on social media. It really does help! Check out my about page for more detailed information.