Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Katsushika Hokusai's Equestrian Artwork

When thinking of the great artists from history who have done equestrian artwork, there is one very famous artist who does not often spring to mind and that is the Japanese ukiyo-e master Katsushika Hokusai.

During his lifetime, Hokusai made a massive amount of prints, sketches, and paintings depicting countless different subjects, including the horse. While he doesn't seem to have been specifically labelled an equestrian artist, we can only assume he had at least a little bit of a passion for drawing horses. He makes mention of their beauty and elegance in the commentaries accompanying his equestrian paintings and he has also been quoted as saying that his ultimate goal was to paint a horse so close to life that it could run straight off the page! Most likely this quote probably applies to all of his subjects in general, but it certainly does apply to many of the horses he painted in his lifetime!

Let's take a look at some of his equestrian (and horse-related) paintings, prints, and manga:

"The Waterfall Where Yoshitsune Washed His Horse at Yoshino in Yamato Province"
by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).
One of Hokusai's most famous prints where a horse is the main subject is "The Waterfall Where Yoshitune Washed His Horse at Yoshino in Yamato Province". This print comes from his 1827-1830 series "A Tour of the Waterfalls of the Provinces".  In this print we can see two peasants washing a horse in the famous Yoshino Falls where, according to a popular Japanese legend, the legendary general and warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune washed his horse while hiding from the enemy in the nearby mountains. There's no doubt that the true subject of this print are the waterfalls themselves, but the horse does have a central place in the print. 

"The Warrior Hatakeyama Shigetada Carrying His Horse"

In the print on the right, we see the famous samurai warrior from the Genpei wars Hatakeyama Shigetada carrying his horse Mikazuki on his shoulders. Mikazuki's colors, spots, and mane are very detailed and we can see the malaise in his face as Hatakeyama carries him down the hill.

"Wild Horses" from "Hokusai Manga".

In "Hokusai Manga" (1814-1878), Hokusai did a number of horse sketches. Many of these were instructional, teaching aspiring artists of the day how to draw horses. Some depicted samurai and generals riding horses. Others, such as the one on the right, depict horses as beautiful creatures in their natural environment going about their everyday lives. Or legends - both local and national - about people and horses (i.e. the "horse-tamer" woman of Kaizu village). Hokusai manages to draw some of the native Japanese horse breeds and captures their colors and emotions well. 

"Peasant on a Horse" by Hokusai.

Hokusai also made a number of Chinese-style sumi-e (ink wash) paintings of horses. One of the most famous is his painting "Family of the Horse" which, as the name suggests, depicts a family of horses grazing underneath a tree. The painting is painted with a shade of mist and the horses, which were painted with relatively few lines, all look cheerful and content. In the painting on the right, titled "Peasant on a Horse", the horse is more detailed and we find ourselves observing the surroundings with the rider as the horse takes him on his way. Both of these paintings are fine examples of the Chinese shuimohua ("brush painting") tradition that Hokusai was able to master.

All in all Katsushika Hokusai made some excellent depictions of horses. When looking at his paintings, it's hard not to imagine the horses coming to life and galloping across a field, or taking a legendary samurai into a battle fought many centuries ago!

(All image copyrights:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lim Ah Cheng: A Malaysian Equestrian Artist

Last week I stumbled across an article from the Malaysian newspaper The Star about the opening of the Motour (Ministry of Tourism) art gallery in Putrajaya, Malaysia last month. Among the exhibits at the opening was one from the Malaysian artist Lim Ah Cheng. Lim has become a famous artist both at home and abroad, and he has become famous for one art genre in particular: Equestrian art.

Lim's paintings are a place where West meets East. A place where the frenetic Fauvist colors of Henri Matisse meets the wild, galloping ink horses of Xu Beihong and dissolve into a fluidic realm of the imagination.

Lim Ah Cheng has painted horses for well over one and half decades. Many of his paintings have been displayed in exhibitions and galleries around the world. His works are well-known in Malaysia (and next door in Singapore as well), where he has been awarded a number of Malaysian National Art Awards.

In his paintings, Lim combines Western acrylic and oil with traditional Chinese ink brush painting styles. He has been such an avid painter of horses because, in his words, the horse is "poetry in motion when it gallops". He has captured the essence of this horse in his paintings with swift brushstrokes, multi-colored hues that complement the emotions of the horse, and his own abstract "fluid" style that emphasizes the gracefulness and sheer energy of the horse.

Among Lim's many horse paintings are his "Ancient Horses" series from 2004 and his current series, "Metamorphosis", which he began in 2008. "Ancient Horses" is a combination of Eastern and Western Art. In this series, Lim combines horses and calligraphy from traditional Chinese brush paintings with Western abstractism. As a result, we see a highly dynamic painting that contains the best elements of both sides of the globe. In "Metamorphosis" (which is still not finished at the time of this writing), Lim has been more introspective and includes objects from our modern everyday world in the paintings. Some of the paintings in this series feature paper airplanes flying alongside the horses, which, according to the OdeToArt gallery website, were important to Lim in his childhood and are symbolic of dreams and aspirations, which are often written inside and cast to the wind.

Lim Ah Cheng is an artist who has not only become an acclaimed equestrian painter, but also an artist who has successfully merged Eastern and Western styles of painting vis a vis the main subject of his paintings: the horse!

For more about Lim Ah Cheng and his artwork, be sure to have a look at the links below: (Another article from The Star about Lim Ah Cheng, his life and influences, and his "Ancient Horses" series.) (Lim Ah Cheng's Artmajeur page. Includes "Ancient Horses" plus some other equestrian paintings.) (A selection of Lim's artwork on display at the Momentous Art Gallery in Singapore.) (Some more of Lim's paintings from the Laluna Gallery, and a short bio.)

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Pegasus in Art

One of the most famous horses in the world is the mythological winged horse known as Pegasus. From ancient Greece to our modern world, Pegasus has been a creature that has appeared in a multitude of legends, video games, company logos, coins, and more. Naturally, Pegasus has been a common subject of art as well. What are some of the famous pieces of art that depict Pegasus? Let's take a look.

In Greek mythology, Pegasus was a white winged horse that rode the heavens. His parents were Medusa and the sea god Poseidon, who was acting in his role of a horse god. Pegasus was born when Perseus beheaded Medusa. After he was born he ascended to heaven and betrothed himself to Zeus. Everywhere he stepped, Pegasus was said to have created a spring. Pegasus was a friend to the Muses and is said have created the Hippocrene fountain on Mt. Helicon which was so sacred to them. He is also said to have been instructed by Zeus to be a carrier of thunderbolts to Heaven from Mt. Olympus. When captured by the "monster slayer" Bellerophon, Pegasus agreed to take him into battle with the fire-breathing Chimera monster, which he subsequently slew. After Bellerophon fell off the back of Pegasus, Pegasus ascended into the heavens and was turned into the Pegasus star constellation by Zeus.

A Roman mosaic from the 2nd century AD depicting Pegasus. (Michel wal/Wikimedia Commons)

In ancient Greece and Rome, Pegasus appeared in a wide variety of artwork and places. Pegasus motifs (including some depicting Bellerophon and Pegasus battling the Chimera) have been found on ancient Greek and Roman pottery, wall frescoes, statues, adornments, and more. Ancient Greek vases displaying Pegasus have been displayed at museums around the world. Ancient Roman wall frescoes of Pegasus have been uncovered at Pompeii. Pegasus mosaics, such as the one above from Cordoba, Spain, have also been found. Pegasus has also been found etched into the body armor and shields of Roman legionnaires, Roman lamps, coins, and much, much more. Depictions of Pegasus have been found on artifacts as far away as the Parthian culture of northeast Iran!

"Pegasus" by Jan Boeckhorst (1604-1668). (Wikimedia Commons)

During the Middle Ages and especially the Renaissance, Pegasus made a huge comeback into European artwork. He was regarded as a symbol of wisdom during the Middle Ages and can be found in illustrations from literature and miniatures of the time. Pegasus was widely painted and sculputed by the great Renaissance artists. Some of these paintings include "Pegasus" by Dutch painter Jan Boeckhorst (right), "Pegasus and the Muses" by Girolamo Romanino (ca. 1484-1559), "Helicon or Minerva's Visit to the Muses" by Joos de Momper (II) (1564-1635), "Perseus and Andromeda" by Peter Paul Reubens (1577-1640), and "Four Muses" by Caesar van Everdingen (1616/17-1678). Sculptures of Pegasus from the time can be found all across western Europe.

During the Renaissance, Bellerophon was replaced with Perseus as the rider of Pegasus. Perseus was much more familiar and popular to the Renaissance audience. Ever since, Perseus has been associated with Pegasus in art and poetry.

"Muse on Pegasus" by Odilon Redon (1840-1916). (

During the 19th century and early 20th centuries, artists continued to depict Pegasus in their paintings. One 19th century artist who painted Pegasus was the British artist Sir Frederic Leighton (1830-1896). He made two paintings of Pegasus: "Pegasus and Andromeda" (1891), and "Perseus on Pegasus Hastening to the Rescue of Andromeda" (1895-96). Many of Leighton's paintings were mythology-themed, including these. Also during the 19th century, Pegasus was painted by some of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters, including French Symbolist painter Odilon Redon's paintings of Pegasus (see right) and fellow Symbolist Gustave Moreau's (1826-1898) 1868 painting " Le Po├Ęte voyageur", or "The Travelling Poet" in English. Redon's painting was a very colorful and heavenly depiction of Pegasus. In contrast, Moreau's painting is a very dark, broody, and atmospheric depiction of Pegasus. 

In our own time, Pegasus has been depicted countless times in countless ways. Pegasus is the logo of the Poetry Foundation and, appropriately enough, Turkish Pegasus Airlines. It's also the flying horse in the Tri-Star Pictures logo, the mascot of the Kentucky Derby Festival in Louisville, KY, the inspiration behind (and a line of) "My Little Pony", and has made appearances in at least two Disney movies: "Fantasia" and "Hercules"! In art, Pegasus has been painted many times over the years by a number of artists, professional and amateur alike. He is a symbol that has persisted over the centuries and most likely will remain in art for many more centuries to come!  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Rajput Horse Paintings

Painting from 1780 of the stallion Laldhan Behada from Kishangarh, which is located in the modern-day Ajmer district of Rajasthan. (Wikimedia Commons)
Last month I wrote a hub at Hubpages on equestrian art around the world. In this hub I discussed a little about the equestrian art of the Indian state of Rajasthan, or as it was known in the days of old, Rajputana. Today I'd like to elaborate a little more about the horse in Rajput art.

Rajasthan, which is located mainly in northwest India (and encompasses parts of central and western India, as well as parts of Pakistan), was a state of princely kingdoms and proud soldiers who served these princes. The word Rajput itself comes from the Sanskrit word raja-putra, meaning "king [or monarch] son". Basically, it means "the king's sons"! They were at the crossroads of - and the main bulwark of defense against - groups such as the Mongols and Afghans to the north and the Arabs and Persians to the west. The warrior culture was strong in Rajasthan, and to this day most Rajputs are extremely proud of their warrior heritage.

Rajput rulers and soldiers all took pride in one thing: the Marwari horse. It was this horse that the Rajputs rode into battle and often rode against elephants! A Rajput warrior's horse was his pride and joy, and it was something he was not easily separated from.

The love for the Marwari, its gallantness in battle, and its natural beauty have been immortalized in Rajput paintings. There were many paintings painted by painters which depict Rajput rulers proudly mounted on their Marwari towering over soldiers or attendants. These paintings celebrated the power of the ruler. Others depicted royalty out on a hunt or sporting, warriors in battle, scenes of literature, or horses on display in everyday court life. Horses were also featured in paintings depicting scenes from sacred religious texts such as the Bhagavata Purana.

In ancient Rajasthan, there were a number of famous painters, including Jitendra Sahoo, the ex-Mughal court painters Dalchand and his son Bhavanidas, and Nihal Chand. A number of these artists made some amazing horse paintings, some of which were presented to both Rajput and Mughal royalty. Many of the native Rajput artists were heavily influenced by the neighboring Mughal painters, who in turn were greatly influenced by the Safavid painters in nearby Persia (modern-day Iran). In fact, many Rajput paintings are nearly indistinguishable from Mughal artwork, and some Mughal court painters came to Rajasthan and made a name of their own as Rajput artists. In Rajput equestrian paintings, a combination of Mughal eloquence and local Rajput colors and styles can be seen.

The kingdoms of Rajasthan each had their own unique art schools, which was reflected in the horse paintings of each kingdom. In both paintings, can you see the orange and white stripes on the legs of the horses? This was apparently a common way to decorate horses in Kishangarh as it appears on other equestrian paintings from Kishangarh. The attendants can be seen performing a ceremony with morchals (an elaborate ancient Indian "flyswatter" made of peacock feathers) and an incense burner. This was quite possibly a ceremony of some kind performed in Kishangarh. Also, the horse was drawn with elaborate curves, painted with striking colors, and is massive in comparison to its attendants. These were common characteristics of Rajput horse paintings in general.

An equestrian painting from 1720-30 attributed to Dolchand. Notice the colors of the Kishangarh style, as well as the Mughal
 influence. (Photo copyright: Wikimedia Commons)

Each local style belonged to one of the four principal schools of Rajput art. The Jodhpur and Kishangarh styles belonged to the Marwar school, the Jaipur and Amber styles belonged to the Dhundar school, and so on. The Kishangarh style belonged to the Marwar school, but was unique in its on way. Paintings in the Kishangarh style typically used soft colors, brilliant landscapes, and often had a Radha-Krishna theme. They were strongly influenced by Mughal art. The Jodhpur style was influenced by the Mewar school of Rajput art and featured noblemen with curved mustaches and royal clothing parading on or with horses. There were also a number of other unique local styles in which horses were either the main subject or part of the theme.

Horses remained common in Rajput artwork throughout its glory days and never lost their meaning. As foreign influences encroached in Rajput art and Rajasthan itself gradually became part of modern India, the Marwari kept its place alongside the warrior.

For more about the horse in Rajput society and Rajput equestrian art, here are some sites to check out: (Excellent article about the Marwari in Rajasthan. Features some Rajput equestrian artwork.) ("The Stallion Kitab" by Bhavanidas. Includes information about Bhavanidas and Kishangarh artwork.) (A brief, in-depth look at Rajput artwork.) (Excellent explanation of Rajput artwork. Includes all the regional varieties and schools, their characteristics and influences, and the techniques used to paint them.)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Eduardo Navarro Exhibition Opens in South Africa

For those of you who live in South Africa, a once in a lifetime opportunity has come your way! To commemorate the 17th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Panama and South Africa, an exhibition is opening at Graham's Fine Art Gallery in Johannesburg. This exhibition, named "Caballos" ("Horses" in Spanish), features the equestrian artwork of Panamanian artist Eduardo Navarro. 

Navarro's is without a doubt Panama's most famous horse artist. His equestrian paintings have gained worldwide attention over the past decade. Drawing influence from the European Renaissance and Chinese horse painters of old, Eduardo Navarro has the ability to capture the sheer energy and detailed anatomy of the horse. In essence, he combines the wild spirit of the horses of the ancient Chinese painter Han Gan with the muscular anatomy of Leonardo da Vinci's horses. All touched with a dazzling variety of colors and his famous "dripping" and "hard brushing" techniques, which are used across a wide variety of canvases and textiles and make the horses seem that much more real.

Navarro's paintings have been featured in exhibitions across the world and are in a number of private collections.

Thanks to this exhibition, the general public in South Africa will have the opportunity to experience the raw energy of his horse paintings up close! The exhibition, which is endorsed by the Ministries of Art and Culture of both Panama and South Africa, runs from Oct. 18th-Dec. 16th, 2012. If you're lucky enough to be able to attend, you may not want to pass up on the chance to see the works of Panama's greatest horse artist up close!

For more about Eduardo Navarro and the "Caballos" exhibition, here are some links for you: (Exhibition homepage on the website of Graham's Fine Art Gallery)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ning Yeh: A Modern-Day Master of Chinese Horse Paintings

While browsing around on YouTube, I stumbled across this video of Chinese equestrian artist and brush painting master Ning Yeh in action at the Beijing Central Art Academy:

For those of you who aren't aware of who Ning Yeh is, he is an artist who is famous for his traditional Chinese horse paintings. He was born into a family whose artistic legacy spans generations. He is also a teacher, author, and filmmaker who has written a number of books on Chinese brush painting and has starred in and produced several TV series about Chinese brush painting. One of these series, Chinese Brush Painting with Ning Yeh, airred across the US on the cable network The Learning Channel (TLC) some years ago.  Dr. Yeh also owns the Oriental Art Supply store in Huntington Beach, CA with his family and continues to teach and paint in his studio there.

If you haven't already, please take a couple of minutes and watch a master of the horse painting in action!

For more info about Ning Yeh, be sure to check out the following sites: (Homepage of Dr. Ning Yeh)

Welcome to "Horse Art Central"!

Hello and welcome to my new blog! Equestrian art is one of the world's oldest genres of art. Artists have been painting, sculpting, and carving horses for tens of thousands of years. Horse paintings, sculptures, and more have been admired by art lovers for just as long. Horses can be found in artwork all around the world ranging from the Lascaux caves in France to Native American rock art in the US to ancient Chinese brush paintings.

It is my hope to be able to blog a little about the equestrian artwork of old and modern-day equestrian art alike. I also hope to offer a little for equestrian artists and art admirers alike. Or if you don't fall into either category, maybe these blog entries will spark your interest in equestrian artwork!

So please, delve into the pages in this blog and hopefully you'll find them interesting!