Horse and Riders
Chronology : 1-1000 14th century 1480-1499 18th century 1760-1769 1870-1879 1911 1912 1981
Tang - Horse by Han Gan
2017 SOLD for $ 17M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
The Tang are great protectors of the arts. Narrative paintings feature groups in complex situations, with picturesque detail. The Taizong emperor also inaugurates the Tang's passion for the horse, that indispensable auxiliary of the warrior. He commissions the portraits of his favorite horses to Yan Liben.
The Tang imperial horses are the subject of a selection, integrating the best foreign breeds. The peak is reached during the reign of Xuanzong. His stable is reputed to house 40,000 horses, some of which are specially trained to dance in front of the emperor. Polo, hunting and jousting are practiced with passion. The main horse painter is Chen Hong.
Around 750 CE the self-taught artist Han Gan is noted for his artistic talents and invited to collaborate with Chen Hong. Han Gan abandons stylization for realism. The portrait of a horse, sometimes with a rider or a groom, becomes his exclusive theme. Each animal is observed individually.
On March 15, 2017, Christie's sold at lot 509 for $ 17M including premium the image of a horse by Han Gan, 32 x 38 cm, very readable but heavily cracked. The animal with an elegant two-tone hair walks with a dignified slowness. The colophon of the Qianlong emperor includes no less than twelve imperial seal marks and the artwork is listed in the catalogue of his collection, the Shiqu Baoji.
Xuanzong's long reign is culturally splendid and politically catastrophic. The emperor had abandoned management to devote himself to pleasures. He was deposited in 756 CE after a short civil war. This date is probably the terminus ante quem for an original painting by Han Gan.
Yuan - The Good Life of the Ancient Princes
2016 SOLD for RMB 303M yuan including premium
2020 SOLD for HK$ 307M including premium
On November 29, 2009, Christie's sold for HK $ 46.6M including premium a painting by Ren Renfa titled Five Drunken Kings Return on Horses, lot 815.
Before Christie's sale, I had discussed this unusual and nice picture as follows :
"It is a hand scroll 2.10 m long and 35 cm high painted in ink and colors. There are nine characters overall. The kings are riding in vacillating attitudes and four grooms attend to assure that their honorable masters will not fall.
"The artist was named Ren Renfa and lived under the Yuan dynasty 700 years ago. He was following a tradition dating back to the Tang dynasty for pictures of horses of great beauty.
"The irreverent nature of the theme is a proof of wittiness rare in art history suggesting an artistic freedom at the time of the Mongolian rule."
Although his work is not uncommon, Ren Renfa was probably not a professional artist : he made his career as an imperial official in charge of the regulation of rivers.
This item was sold for RMB 303M including premium by Poly on December 4, 2016, lot 4050. It had been reported by ChinaDaily as the highest paid Chinese artwork at auction that year. The Poly catalogue had provided detailed informations.
It is in a very good contrast in spite of its age and has been carefully analyzed. The paper is conformant to the Song patterns and is earlier than the Ming. The scroll includes ancient colophons as well as the seals of three Qing emperors.
According to the opinion of a Ming scholar official, the drunken characters are the five sons of a Tang emperor. The leading prince riding a magnificent black horse is the future emperor Xuanzong whose love of pleasures will much later trigger a civil war against his dynasty.
The procession of drunken princes by Ren displays revealing similarities in its composition with an elegant promenade of women painted two centuries earlier by the Song artist Li Longmian and preserved at the Taiwan Museum.
The scroll of the Drunken Princes is now estimated HK$ 80M for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on October 8, lot 2575. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
1486 The Triumphs of Mantua
2020 SOLD for $ 11.7M including premium
One of his most important achievements is the series of the Triumphs of Caesar. Nine tempera paintings were made in a unique format 268 x 278 cm. A tenth image is known from an engraving. The realization lasted several years. It was sufficiently advanced in 1486 to be praised by the Duke of Ferrara.
These paintings were conceived as a narrative suite, with a homogeneity in the position of the light. We do not know however in what chronology they were painted. Acquired by King Charles I, this monumental set is exhibited in a row at Hampton Court.
A preparatory drawing for the second opus has just surfaced. Measuring 26.6 x 26.6 cm, it is an exact 1:10 scale. The hero on horseback passes between two monumental statues which are an Aesculapius standing on a carriage and a head of Cybele.
This drawing has a role of demonstration before the realization of the painting. The inscriptions identifying Aesculapius at the top of the carriage and Alexandria under the round tower were not copied in the final work. The banner texts have changed. Divo Iulio Aug ... became Imp Iulio Caesari ob Galliam devict in a reference to the First Italian War. A competent condottiero, the marchese Francesco II Gonzaga was in 1495 the governor general of the armies of the League of Venice against the new 'Gallic' invader.
The infrared inspection of the drawing, carried out by Sotheby's, revealed important reworks skillfully masked in the line, confirming that the work is autograph. The tall Aesculapius thus hides a previous Apollo whose much smaller dimension could be mingled with the characters of the action. The invocation of Aesculapius in a triumph, maintained in the painting, is a fancy.
This drawing is estimated in excess of $ 12M for sale by Sotheby's in New York on January 29, lot 19. Please watch the video shared by Sotheby's in which the artwork is commented by the specialist Cristiana Romalli who was the discoverer of the hidden figures.
#AuctionUpdate: Andrea Mantegna’s only preparatory drawing for one of the canvases in the Triumphs of Caesar, realizes $11.7 million - a new record for a drawing by the artist at auction, and the 5th highest price for a drawing ever at auction pic.twitter.com/p6e3THFEU6— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) January 29, 2020
1765 Portrait of a Champion by Stubbs
2011 SOLD 22.4 M£ including premium
Made around 1765, the oil on canvas for sale by Christie's in London on July 5 is certainly more outstanding. It is estimated £ 20M. This is the portrait of a horse named Gimcrack, who was winning most of the races where he was engaged.
This broad composition, 102 x 196 cm, simple and effective, is divided into two parts. On the left, Gimcrack shows his beautiful profile, surrounded by a coach, a stable boy and a jockey.
A race is held on the horizon, on the right. A horse is far ahead of his three followers. He is also Gimcrack, of course. He is therefore shown twice on that image that had everything to flatter the sponsor of the work, Lord Bolingbroke, owner of the champion.
Stubbs is very accurate in anatomical detail, but still shows horses galloping with their four legs flying above the ground. This feature, which can be excused one century before the studies of Muybridge, applies here only in the background and provides this work with an undeniable poetic dimension.
POST SALE COMMENT
Sold £ 22.4 million including premium, Gimcrack has once again won his race.
1767 Horses for English Lords
2010 SOLD 10.1 M£ including premium
In 1767 the artist creates the best of his work with the depiction of groups of mares and foals. A large oil on canvas, 100 x 187 cm, is one of his masterpieces. The animals are elegant and finely detailed, far more real than those of De Dreux or Herring in the following century. The image, slightly truncated, is visible in the press release shared by Artdaily.
The painting was kept by the same family of Lords since the origin and had been shown to the public in 2005 in the exhibition Stubbs and the Horse at the National Gallery.
It is now for sale by Sotheby's in London on December 8. For 30 years, no similar lot had been offered at auction, and Sotheby's expects a special price: £ 10M.
POST SALE COMMENT
It was bold to present this painting at such a price level. The challenge is won: £ 10.1 million including premium. Congratulations to Sotheby's.
1872 Les Courses au Bois de Boulogne by Manet
2004 SOLD 26.3 M$ including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
Manet easily entered into artist circles. He enjoys social life and does not wait for the recognition of the Salons. His themes are unlimited. Before him, Courbet went already complacently up to the scandal. Baudelaire and then Zola recognize the originality of his approach.
On May 5, 2004, Sotheby's sold for $ 26.3M including premium Les Courses au Bois de Boulogne, oil on canvas 73 x 94 cm painted in 1872 by Manet, lot 13, from the collection of one of the most famous owners of racehorses, John Hay Whitney. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
The artist skillfully mixed observation and imitation. It seems that the topography of the Longchamp racecourse was painted on the spot.
Manet had demonstrated a few years earlier in his first bullfighting scenes that a direct participation in the event was not essential, since he could rely on Goya. Here the horses in full gallop all fly with their four legs lifted, as in the Epsom Derby painted by Géricault in 1821, acquired by the Louvre in 1866. The imperturbable position of the jockeys in full race is not realistic : the sporting effort was obviously not appreciated by Manet.
Manet's painting is however very modern. The track and the lawn are aquamarine blue, highlighting the contrasts in a freedom of colors that anticipates expressionism for several decades. The distance of the subjects is marked by an increasing blur, as if it were a photograph focused on the action in progress in the foreground. This artifice provides the whole composition with an effect of depth, different from the solutions sought by his impressionist friends.
1905 Gallops in the Wild West
2017 SOLD for $ 11.2M including premium
When Remington becomes a sculptor, he pushes to its paroxysm the study of the imbalance in rapid movements. In 1895 his first masterpiece in that technique, The Broncho Buster, shows a tall prancing horse on his hind legs with no other support, seeking to dismantle his rider. A bronze 58 cm high edited in 1906 was sold for $ 2,6M including premium by Christie's on November 29, 2007.
Even bolder : in 1896, the sculptor attempted a group of two in full gallop entitled The Wounded Bunkie, only connected to the base by two hoofs, one per horse in compliance with the findings of Muybridge. A bronze 51 cm high edited in the first year was sold for $ 5.6M including premium by Sotheby's on May 22, 2008.
Nothing stops that demanding artist. In 1902 he conceives a group of four linked through five legs, departing from Muybridge. The founder succeeds in convincing him of the impossibility of the realization and a compromise with six bearing hoofs is accepted. Titled Coming through the Rye, it is once again a scene expressing a great fastness. The four galloping horses are ridden by cowboys in full euphoria who exhibit their pistols at the end of their arms stretched upwards.
Some orders are received in 1903 but the realization is a feat. This complex piece 78 cm high is too cumbersome and the price tag at 2,000 dollars is too expensive. Very few copies will be made.
Dated 1905 and delivered in 1906 to Tiffany and Co, the serial number 3 is estimated $ 7M for sale by Christie's in New York on May 23, lot 7.
Considering this commercial failure Remington destroyed his models in wax and plaster in 1908. In the same year, disgusted by the new trend of fantasy illustrations, he prepared a bonfire in his yard and destroyed hundreds of his original paintings. This artist out of standards in every sense of that wording dies in 1909 at the age of 48 from complications related to his extreme obesity.
1911 The Breath of Horses
2017 SOLD for $ 12.7M including premium
In January 1911 Kandinsky was enthralled by the music of Schönberg heard in a concert. He will now endeavor to express through his painting a universal and pantheistic feeling with a rhythm which is equivalent to a breath. For that purpose he no longer needs a narrative excuse nor a perspective and he also eliminates the graphic consistency between lines and colors.
On November 13 in New York, Christie's sells an example from this new experimental phase. Titled Improvisation mit Pferden (Studie für Improvisation 20), this oil on canvas 71 x 99 cm painted in 1911 is estimated $ 9M, lot 9 A.
The lyrical breath is assured by the primordial force of the diagonal rising from lower left to upper right. The figures are more or less identifiable : horses, a blue and yellow couple, a tower, a row of trees. The powerful rising flow is disturbed by a thick semi-circular black line with zigzag.
The final version 95 x 108 cm titled Improvisation 20 (Zwei Pferde) retained the diagonal and the zigzag, with solid colors. Appearing as a mere detail in comparison with its Studie, it does not offer the same amplitude but is indisputably one of the ultimate stages before pure abstraction.
1912 Horses by Franz Marc
2018 SOLD for £ 15.4M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
The horse occupies the best place in Marc's art. The natural attitude of this animal is varied but always elegant. A group of horses is the pretext for building a perfect balance. With an image brought by Kandinsky, the horse becomes a powerful symbol of modern art when the two artists create the Der Blaue Reiter movement in 1911.
Grosse Landschaft I (large landscape I) shows a group of mares. This oil on canvas 110 x 212 cm painted in 1909 passed at Sotheby's on February 3, 2016 with a lower estimate of £ 4M, lot 6.
Weidende Pferde III (grazing horses III) stages four fiery males, each one in another attitude. The coats are red but manes and tails are blue. This oil on canvas 61 x 92 cm painted in 1910 was sold for £ 12.3M including premium by Sotheby's on February 5, 2008 over a lower estimate of £ 6M, lot 13.
Art on paper or cardboard allows a great vividness of colors. Drei Pferde (three horses), gouache on card 34 x 48 cm executed in 1912, was sold for £ 15.4M including premium by Christie's on June 20, 2018 over a lower estimate of £ 2.5M, lot 14 B. Horses have a realistic shape but are surrounded by a cubist landscape. This work is illustrated in the tweet below.
Made the same year, Zwei Blaue Esel (two blue donkeys), gouache on paper 35 x 28 cm, was sold for £ 4.1M including premium by Sotheby's on February 4, 2020 over a lower estimate of £ 1M, lot 7.
1932 Modern Art under the Skyscrapers
2017 SOLD for HK$ 105M including premium
Created in 1929 by Mrs Rockefeller and two of her friends, the Museum Of Modern Art has a difficult start due to local reluctance to changes. Moving to more spacious premises the MoMA plans a new inauguration in May 1932 with an exhibition titled Murals promoting American painters and photographers.
Six weeks before the great re-opening each invited artist is required to create a large size painting and a triptych. The Chinese-born American Yun Gee aged 26 is the youngest of the selected artists.
It was a good choice : painter, musician and dancer, Yun Gee had been in contact with the avant-gardes, first in the Chinatown of San Francisco and then in Paris before he settled in New York in 1930. Taking advantage of this multiple culture he sought to develop a total art mixing expressive colors and movement and embracing past and future to define the new life.
The triptych made for the MoMA was sold for HK $ 10.8M including premium by Sotheby's on October 5, 2014.
The masterpiece of Yun Gee is his other work for the MoMA, oil on canvas 214 x 122 cm titled Wheels: Industrial New York. Wheels means the circles of human activities turning into vertigo under the skyscrapers.
Yun Gee's surrealist synthesis of the avant-gardes around his belief in progress makes Wheels a tour de force. The abundance of the activities is displayed in an expressionist style, the shaking of the perspectives is cubist, the circular merry go round of the polo team in the foreground is futurist, the warm colors are fauvist under a haunting sun and the theme is by itself constructivist.
Kept until now in the artist's family, Wheels: Industrial New York is estimated HK $ 80M for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on September 30, lot 1017. Please watch the video shared by the auction house in which the CG technology promoted by Sotheby's for new visual effects highlights the expression of movement in the composition.