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The horse: empire, modernity and modern art

Weekend-long art history and theory course

Short course

  • 22 June 2019, 10am — 5pm
  • 23 June 2019, 10am — 5pm
This event has now ended

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Christopher Le Brun PRA, Thorn (detail), 1984-85.

Oil on Canvas. 248cm x 213.3cm.

This weekend course explores the remarkably different roles played by the horse in sporting art, the equestrian monument and modern art. Join art historian, Dr Nicholas Watkins, and expert guest lecturers including the President of the Royal Academy and Director of the National Horseracing Museum.

The horse is rooted so deeply in the psyche of the Western imagination that it has maintained its expressive power in the age of the internet. Few images speak with such authority and depth of tradition. Equestrian imagery mixes myth and reality, follows different time scales and has accumulated vastly different meanings.

For example, the mounted leader suspended in action in an equestrian monument provides an eternally valid symbol of national identity and empire, whereas Muybridge’s stop-framed horse in full gallop suggests speed and continuous change.

The rise of horse painting as a specialist genre in the late 17th and early 18th centuries coincided with the evolution of the Thoroughbred from the founding Arabian sires and the development of hunting and racing into widely popular pastimes.

Manet and Degas considered horseracing a quintessential modern life subject, non-classical, intensely dramatic and highly competitive, where classes clashed and fortunes were made and lost.

Furthermore, without the horse it proved difficult to convey such abstract concepts as the power of Watts’s steam engines or the electrification of Italy (as seen in Umberto Boccioni’s Futurist masterpiece of 1910 The City Rises).

By contrast, Gauguin and the Blue Rider Group employed the horse to symbolise a spiritual rejection of modernity: the horse was innocence, to ride naked was to be at one with nature.

For Munnings the horse represented tradition, a defining image of Englishness, epitomised by his celebrated hunting and racing scenes. In Guernica the most moving protest painting of the 20th century, Picasso depicted an agonised horse in its death throes to evoke the destruction of the civilian population by the German Condor Legion flying for Franco in the Spanish Civil War.

The course examines the diverse and fascinating ways in which leading contemporary artists have drawn on the constructional and expressive power of the equestrian image.

The course will include a special keynote in-conversation with Christopher Le Brun, President of the Royal Academy who has made extensive use of equestrian imagery in his work.

Christopher Garibaldi, Director of the newly re-opened National Horseracing Museum in Newmarket, will discuss the museums unique collection of sporting art from the early 17th century to the present day.

Dr Philip Ward-Jackson will explore the key role played by the equestrian monument as a symbol of national identity and empire.

The course is complementary to the practical weekend course: Drawing the Animal Form: Anatomy of the Horse.

● Fully booked

● Cancelled

  • 22 June 2019, 10am — 5pm
  • 23 June 2019, 10am — 5pm

Wolfson British Academy Room, Burlington Gardens, Royal Academy of Arts

£420. Includes all materials, light refreshments and a wine reception at the end of day one.