Picasso isn't the obvious artist to associate with horse paintings. We tend to remember his Cubist work most often: esoteric portraits and eyes all over the place. But Picasso was fascinated by horses, and although he was never an equestrian artist in any recognised form, the horse played a significant role in many of his works throughout his long and prolific career. He painted it figuratively as well as in his Cubist style, both with powerful effect.
Here we pick out five of Picasso's paintings where the figure of a horse plays an important part.
His first recorded horse painting in oils was of a picador dressed in yellow, mounted on a horse and it was painted when he was only 9.
Boy Leading a Horse
An early work from 1906, the horse stance is taken from a famous painting by Mantegna and the horse has a symbolic role, much interpreted by art critics. The boy is leading the horse but there are no reins, just the hand position. The naked boy represents Picasso himself. The painting can be seen in the New York Museum of Modern Art.
Harlequin On Horseback
Picasso used the image of the harlequin or jester throughout his career as his alter ego. Here the harlequin is dressed in bright red and mounted on a black horse. It is a very still image, almost sad with the harlequin looking off in one direction and the horse in the other. 1905
Curtain for the ballet ‘Parade” – shows a winged pegasus and foal on stage 1917. Picasso was involved in no less than eight ballet and drama productions between 1914 and 1924. The most important of these was the ballet Parade written by Jean Cocteau with a futuristic concept blending theatre, ballet, circus and technological city life. This curtain is a huge tableau combining some of the two dimensional Cubist elements of his previous work with figurative depictions of characters and winged horse and 3D depth and perspective. It's a pure fantasy piece. Georges Pompidou Centre, Paris.
Many of Picasso's horse pictures were studies for one of his greatest works Guernica – a powerful symbolic depiction of the Spanish Civil War commissioned in 1936. It shows the suffering of war inflicted on innocent civilians and animals. It is a huge mural size canvas 3.5 m tall and 7.8m wide. The original is on display at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid.
Picasso's horse paintings certainly weren't to everyone's taste, as prominent equestrian artist of the period, Sir Alfred Munnings, made clear when he famously denounced modern art in general and Picasso in particular. If you are looking for realistic and beautiful horse paintings Picasso isn't the first choice, but if you are looking for powerful and symbolic horse imagery, then you'll find it among his prolific oeuvre.
Kit Heathcock, freelance writer, is writing for Rachel Dubber, a well-known, contemporary equestrian artist and photographer, with a lifelong passion for horses. She creates a wide range of stunning horse paintings, photography and sculpture. Currently based in Cape Town, South Africa she portrays the individuality of each equestrian subject, both for portrait commissions and for her own art.
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