Three Great Horse Paintings


There are plenty of great horse paintings out there, but how do you choose five of the best? Do you judge based on skill or how famous the painting is? Or a bit of both? And what about a painting that is super-realistic, but kind of just boring to look at because the horses aren't doing anything? Clearly realism is not the only factor to consider. A boring painting is not a great painting.

For example Theodore Gericault's "The 1821 Derby at Epsom" is a famous painting depicting a horse race, but is the painting any good? Uh, no. It isn't that good. Sure, it captures the idea of the horses being in motion... But they're so elongated that the horses feel unrealistic and cartoonish. It is a famous painting, but is it a great painting? Nope. Not a great painting. Barely even a good painting.

Edgar Degas' painting "Jockeys before the Tribune" however is a great painting in terms of providing a realistic depiction of horses. And it is one of many paintings made by Degas concerning horses and jockeys. He was such a regular at the Paris Fair Grounds that he became fairly well known as a horse painter. He even had a taxidermy horse sculpture in his studio which he used for making accurate paintings. This is why we are including a Degas painting as our number one pick for Five Great Horse Paintings... and it was difficult to just choose one. He made a lot of them. If Degas was alive today we could imagine his studio being littered with photographs of horses, copies of Horse Sport Magazine, stuffed animal horse toys, and copies of books like Black Beauty or The Horse Whisperer. Seriously. We could fill this page with nothing but Degas paintings of horses, but how fair would that be? We chose this one because it is particularly interesting and definitely not boring.

Franz Marc's painting "The Tower of Blue Horses" is missing. Some say that Hitler had the painting destroyed in the 1940s, after shouting at the painting "There are no blue horses!" in German when he saw the painting in a Berlin art gallery (the Nazis destroyed a lot of paintings). It is a cubist painting done during the height of Cubism and while not realistic (Cubism paintings never are) it is a great example of Cubism and an interesting example of a horse painting that is never boring to look at.

Georgia O’Keeffe's "Horse’s Skull with White Rose" from 1931 is a fascinating example of something that is both well painted and definitely not boring. And yes, unlike the others on this list the horse is clearly dead.

And we could keep going. There are many great horse paintings (and sculptures and other types of artwork). There is a huge history of equines in art. Whole books dedicated to the subject. Magazines even. Sadly some of those magazines are no more. "Horses in Art Magazine" is no more, but "Art Horse Magazine" still exists, and there are other magazines which are more general purpose horse magazines which also touch on the topic of horses in art.

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