The Horse – A Sculptural Icon

The horse remains an enduring symbol of power, hope and renewal in sculpture.

Spanning 200 years, this selection affords an opportunity to see how sculptural depictions of the horse have evolved – from the masters of the 19th century to contemporary sculptors practising today. The horse is a symbol of eternal interest to sculptors, embodying notions of nobility, freedom and vitality.

Highlights of the exhibition include: Degas’ ‘Thoroughbred Horse Walking’ is one of his most famous subjects; Nic Fiddian- Green’s carving in lapis of his signature ‘horse at water’ sculpture, as seen in monumental scale at Marble Arch, London; Rembrandt Bugatti’s rare Percheron Stallion, which has been displayed in museums around the world; Nichola Theakston ‘Draught Horse’ showing the contemporary drama of a heavy horse, contrasting in style with the famous American Artist Herbert Haseltine’s interpretation.

Artist Spotlight

Antoine-Louis Barye

French, 1796-1875

The master of masters who clung to nature with all the force and tenacity of a god and dominated everything. He was beyond all and outside of all art influences, save nature and the antique. He was one of, if not the most isolated artists that ever lived. Emphatically original, and the first in the world of that kind of originality, he was himself and himself alone… He is our great glory and we shall have to depend on him in coming generations.’ – Auguste Rodin

Barye was an artist of enormous complexity, who embodied many overlapping tendencies of his age – Romantic, Neo-Classical, Realist and Orientalist. As suggested in Rodin’s fulsome tribute, Barye showed the way for other sculptors both to find new, dynamic interpretations of traditional themes
and to break out into fresh subject matter, as in his purely ‘animalier’ pieces. Just as importantly, he was an independent spirit whose example demonstrated that new strategies could be invented for artists to conduct their careers.

The depiction of animals, directly and without obvious anthropomorphism or allegorical intent, was indeed one of Barye’s goals. Alongside Delacroix, he studied live animals, and dissected dead ones, making scientifically rigorous drawings and careful measurements, to gain total familiarity with animal structure and movements. His ‘bibles’ were the anatomical treaties by Cuvier,
Lamarck and Buffon. In his final sculptures he encapsulated all his factual knowledge of his subject and was then able to expressively ‘distort’ the facts for the sake of re-animating his creatures with drama and vigour.

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Isidore-Jules Bonheur

French, 1827 - 1901

Ses œuvres nombreuses, qui lui valurent des médailles successives … sont d’une sage exécution et d’une inspiration élevée. Roger-Miles

Bonheur was one of the leading realistic animal sculptors during the second half of the nineteenth century. Whilst he excelled at capturing his chosen subject with anatomical accuracy, he also imbued his more complex equestrian groups with a glamorous and highly decorative feel.

Coming from the famous Bonheur ‘dynasty’ of artists, Isidore Bonheur produced major public sculptures such as the Place Dauphin Seated Lions in Paris, as well as his most characteristic animal pieces for private patrons.

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Comte Du Passage

French 1838-1909

Each model shows great attention to detail and a passion for and knowledge of the equestrian world from which most of them are drawn. His work combines the realism and attention to detail of Mene with the knowledge of anatomy and the romanticism of Barye

Comte du Passage developed a fascination for horses at an early age and went on to make them the central theme of his oeuvre. Du Passage belonged to a group of 19th Century aristocratic sculptors who turned their own hand to the medium they so admired.

He was involved in an accident which left him partially paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. Fortunately, he was able to continue with sculpture and spent most of his days drawing and modelling in the stables of his family home – Chateau de Bernaville, at Frohen

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Mark Coreth

British, born 1958

Mark Coreth’s work reflects his instinctive understanding of the moods of the animals he sculpts. His success as a sculptor is borne of an acute and perceptive eye, coupled with the wealth of experience gained during his early years in Kenya and from his travels ever since to observe animals in their natural habitat. Mark’s working methods include modelling in clay direct from his subjects, live in the field; a practice which vividly translates into the fluid and impressionistic nature of his sculpture, capturing both the spirit of the animal but also that of their environment. His work ranges from small, intimate field-studies to life-size and monumental sculpture.

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Edgar Degas

French, 1834 - 1917

Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.
Edgar Degas

Degas began fashioning wax sculptures from the second half of the 1860s: one of the first was a drinking horse. His fascination with ballet dancers and horses stems from the same central purpose in his art: to banish convention and encompass a far greater range of the elements of experience, including light and movement, than had hitherto been attempted.

Degas’ sculptural practice was little known during his lifetime and was largely private and exploratory but when his studio was discovered after his death in 1917, more than 150 sculptures, mostly in wax, were discovered. Many were badly deteriorated but 72, representing mostly dancers, horses, and women were cast by the renowned Hébrard Foundry in Paris. Degas used his sculptures as preliminary studies for his paintings, they were an integral part of his working practice.

His radical approach to sculpture was both innovative and an inspiration to all sculptors who modelled in plastilene, wax or clay. His sculptures were initially conceived as three-dimensional working drawings, preparatory sculptural notes for his two-dimensional works – in itself a novel approach. Degas’s close observation of his subject gives these horses a rare immediacy, yet they also stand alone as works of great beauty and complete sculptures in their own right.

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Nic Fiddian-Green

Born 1963, British

Nic Fiddian-Green has had many successful exhibitions both here and abroad in the many years the Sladmore has represented him, and whilst it is evident he still has an authentic affinity with the nineteenth and twentieth century masters also exhibited by the gallery – from Barye, Mene or Bonheur, to Bugatti, Degas and Frink, his growing international reputation testifies to the totally original and deeply involving nature of his work.

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Exhibition Catalogue

Discover more by viewing the related films.

‘The Evolution of Equine Sculpture’

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