The Enduring Allure of Equine Art
By Beth Ellen Hunziker
I have had a lifelong love affair with horses and all art forms that features their image. Even from my earliest memories, I selected my library books, always about horses, based upon the quality of the illustrations. Many years later, the allure of equine art still captivates me. To be honest, I have actually purchased art rather than buy groceries. It seems I would rather feed my soul than my body. In fact, I have more art pieces than wall space, so I switch out my art depending on the season, and my mood.
Recently a friend sent me an e-mail announcing The Third Annual Sporting Art Auction, in affiliation with Keeneland and Cross Gate Gallery. The featured illustration on the e-mail is by one of my all time favorite artists, Sir Alfred Munnings, 1878-1959. Munnings was a British artist famous for his equine and sporting images. How much do I love the work of Sir Alfred Munnings? I think so highly of the artist, that I gave his name to my beloved little whippet, Alfred.
Keeneland is a name that is synonymous with the highest levels of Thoroughbred racing and sales. This National Historic Landmark, located in Lexington, Kentucky, will be the venue for the Third Annual Sporting Art Auction, which will be held on Wednesday, November 18, 2015. Cross Gate Gallery, owned by Mr. Greg Ladd, also located in the famous Bluegrass Country of Lexington, will be the host for this exciting event. If you love equestrian and sporting art, you won’t want to miss this opportunity to add a special piece to your collection.
Established in 1974, Cross Gate Gallery deals primarily in equine and sporting art from the 19th and 20th century. Several years ago, I had the chance to visit the gallery and I literally could have spent an entire day there discovering all the wonderful treasures it held. So, when I received the e-mail featuring “Mon Talisman After Breezing At Chantilly,” an oil on canvas painting from 1928 by Sir Alfred Munnings, I immediately clicked on the image. It linked me to the digital catalog of offerings in the upcoming auction. The sense of excitement I felt was exactly the same as when I was a child, opening a gift from my grandfather – I knew it would be something very special – and I was right.
The catalog started off well with a charming painting titled, “A Farmyard Scene,” by John Frederick Herring, Jr. (1820-1907). Lot number 19, “Horace Terry’s Spotted Arabian,” by Henri DeLattre (1801-1876) immediately piqued my interest, as his subject was instantly recognizable as a classic Arabian of the era. Although the title describes the horse as spotted, the image clearly shows it is a flea-bitten grey. The Arabian has always been my favorite breed and I am very fond of grey horses, especially the classic flee-bitten Arabian mares of Poland. There is something very special about them. DeLattre’s image made me think of the early desert imports that became the foundation of the Polish breeding programs.
As I paged through the catalog, auction lot number 65 caught my eye. It is a contemporary bronze of a sporting dog titled, “Good Day Hunting,” by Alexa King. Those of us who have been in the Arabian horse business for more than a decade may recall the phenomenal half-Arabian, GTF Beetlejuice. Alexa King was the breeder of this nine-time National Champion English Pleasure horse, which was trained by Shawn and Carmelle Rooker of Rooker Training Center, and shown to perfection by his owner, Cindy DiNapoli. Alexa King has also created many fabulous equine sculptures. Her intimate knowledge of horses – their conformation and character – is captured in her unique style, which is instantly recognizable, and has made her very popular with collectors around the world.
The upcoming auction seems to have something to suit every taste. In addition to presenting classic sporting art from the 1800’s, there is the opportunity to acquire extraordinary contemporary art as well. Among my favorite artists from this era is Leroy Neiman, 1921-2012. Leroy Neiman was a native of Saint Paul, Minnesota and world famous for his colorful, abstract style as seen in his works offered in the auction, which includes lots 99 through 106. I love the energy Neiman expressed in his work and how he captured his subjects, in both oils and watercolors, with such a sense of elegant ease. Not only would I love to own a piece by Leroy Neiman, I would like to have been one of the subjects in his paintings as they seem so worldly and glamorous – not exactly what one might expect from a poor boy growing up in the Frogtown neighborhood of Saint Paul. It seems art and horses took that small town boy and placed him among the rich and famous in Paris, New York, and other intriguing destinations. Leroy Neiman became one of the most recognizable and collectable artists of the 20th century. Anyone would be extremely fortunate to own a piece of his work and there are several very fine pieces offered in this auction.
Another name that may be recognized among the Arabian horse community is Andre Pater. Earlier in his career, this Polish/American artist was a frequent and generous contributor to the Pyramid Society’s Annual Art Auction (Lexington). Andre Pater’s works were instantly snapped up by collectors who had an eye for value and a taste for art with a richness of colors and textures, complex compositions, attention to minute detail and that truly captured the essence of the Arabian horses. Auction lots 123 through 126 are by Andre Pater and depict Thoroughbred scenes as well as one ranch scene. It is clear that from my earliest experience with Andre Pater, until today – and that spans at least 20 years – his work has evolved and become even more beautiful. According to sporting art expert, Greg Ladd, “Andre Pater is the top sporting painter working today.”
As I continued my journey through the catalog, I recognized more names, like Guy Coheleach, Quang Ho, Wolf Kahn, George Ford Morris, Joseph Sulkowski and others, which drew me into their work. I lingered over each page until I came to lot 139: “Mon Talisman After Breezing At Chantilly,” by Sir Alfred Munnings – the cover piece of the catalog I was enjoying. Auction lots 139 through 144 include oils on canvas, as well as watercolor sketches by Munnings. It seems I always find something solid, substantial, graceful, humble, natural and charming in the works of Sir Alfred Munnings. I have several books dedicated to his art and I treasure each of them.
Which came first into my life? Was it the love of horses or the love of art? It is impossible to say. These two elements became my life force at an early age and they still inspire me and bring me joy. Why do I continue to acquire equine art? For the very same reasons — it inspires me and it brings me joy every day.
I highly recommend that you visit the Cross Gate Gallery’s website at: www.crossgategallery.com and view the catalog of the upcoming auction. I also encourage you to consider purchasing a piece of equine art that you love. I am certain it will enrich your life and become a treasure that will bring you joy for years to come.
Beth Ellen Hunziker is an international freelance journalist, graphic artist and consultant working in the world of Arabian horses for the past 20 years. Her award-winning designs and journalistic work appear in national and international magazines. As a freelance writer, she covers shows, events and industry news, sharing important and exciting ideas with Arabian and equine enthusiasts around the globe. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org