I’ve been drawing horses when I can for six of seven years now. Not very often, just when there is a horse show or my daughter is riding. We found a good teacher for a few years but then she left and we have not found a good one to replace her. In any case, I have not drawn horses very much, and am only at the beginning of this study. So this is really a blog post about beginning this inquiry.
This is one of the better of the first drawings I did, back in 2012. I did a lot of poor drawings of horses. I do not wish to deceive the viewer. learning how to see these amazing animals is a journey in itself. There are many different kinds, or breeds, more accurately Palomino, Friesian, Arabian, Tennessee Walker, Indian Paints, Blue Roan, Bays, Morgans, and many others. But their anatomy is very complex both in how the bones are put together and how the muscles fit over them. It is not an accident that the two best horse artists in history were both anatomists who dissected them and drew them in great detail.
Drawing or sketching horses from life in really difficult. Leonardo Da Vinci and George Stubbs are probably the best who ever worked with horses in drawings. It is nice to see that even Leonardo did not always succeed. There are a sketches by him that are not up to his very fine renditions of them. The few drawings that remain from his work are certainly among the best ever done, perhaps the best. They are restrained and graceful and at the same time extremely accurate.
Richard Shaw Pooler wrote a dissertation on Leonardo lost manuscripts. He gathers together various authors comments and the existence of a book Leonardo did on the anatomy of the horse . He states:
……Vasari, in speaking of the equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza, wrote, “Also lost is a small wax model of it that he had completed, together with a book on the anatomy of the horse that he had compiled in his studies”. And he then said, “Of Leonardo we have the anatomy of horses and that of men, much more complete; for so many divine achievements his name and fame will never die out” (Vasari 1965:640)……
…….The anatomy of the horse was also mentioned by Mazenta, who wrote “The author had a peculiar talent at drawing those animals, and designed this treatise for the use of those who paint battles or triumphs (Mazenta 1635:25)”……
…….Lomazzo (1844:III, 179) also referred to Leonardo and his “…various drawings of whom are in the hands of several owners, and especially in the house of Francesco Melzi, a gentleman of Milan, his disciple, in addition to the anatomy of the horse that he made”. Later he wrote, “But above all writers Leonardo da Vinci is worthy of note; he taught the anatomy of human bodies and of the horse which I have seen in the home of Francesco Melzi, drawn divinely by his hand” (Leinati 1957:390).
There must be at least a hundred existing drawings of horses by Leonardo and it is unclear if any of these were part of the Anatomy of the Horse, or if this manuscript contains new things not seen for four or five hundred years. Where is it, sitting in a library somewhere on a shelf not looked at in hundreds of years, as the Codex Madrid was? It was found in 1964. Or did some rich family who breeds horses for the last 500 years get it and still has it hidden in a vault somewhere, unaware of their selfish hoard, or unwilling to admit they are stealing from all of us?
The horse anatomy drawings of George Stubbs do exist and some of these can be seen online. Also Gericault did some interesting horse studies, the one which shows the backsides of many horses is especially fine and seems to have been done from life. Alfred Munnings of the Newlyn School also did some fine work of horses.
I did a copy of one of the horses of the great woman artist Rosa Bonheur. I did this in part to study her understanding of horse anatomy. She is one of the best animal artists of the 1800’s. This is from her great painting “The Horse Fair” in the Met museum in NYC, It is a very powerful work and I remember being overwhelmed by it the first time I saw it. It is an amazing use of paint to express the strength and exuberance of these animals. I have since got to be around many Draft horses and they always impress me both with their gentleness and their power.
after Rosa Bonheur’s the Horse Fair in the MET in NYC.
I would have to draw horses for many years to achieve this sort of mastery that Leonardo and Stubbs attained.. It is unlikely to happen, I am too old. But I admire the animal and the art of these men and women.
Below are two of my daughter from 2013.
Waiting for the Teacher
This last drawing is recent and about actual size, done at a horse show, and I include it only because it shows some improvement over the earlier ones. The back of the horse is well done, the flank leg, stomach and tail was well as the half light on the form are all well done. It is just a sketch and not finished, but was done on a bright day and I learned a lot, which is the main thing.
I did a few watercolors from life of horses. They are far from Leonardo, really just colored sketches done from life. They are attempts and I still like them. Here is one of them
A few other small sketches of horse draw conveyances. one with my daughter in it and another of an Amish buggy and horse in the rain on a street.
Learning is ongoing and I love trying to do horses and the more I learn the better I get at it, I think. I doubt I will every draw horses as well as Leonardo, but then, he is an inspiration to keep learning and correcting myself..
White Percheron’s dragging maple sugar water. Swine Creek, 2019
Horse Show, July 2019
Horse show, nov. 2019