Horses, with their strength, beauty and grace, occupy an art-market niche with a surprisingly broad appeal

Equine art reins in collectors: horses, with their strength, beauty and grace, occupy an art-market niche with a surprisingly broad appeal

Julie Keller

Equine art is galloping into the hearts of collectors at a record pace. For centuries, horses have been a beloved subject for artists and have since found a place on the walls of myriad art lovers. Though a spotlight has recently been shone on the majestic animals, courtesy of this year’s exciting Triple Crown bid by Funny Cide and the hit book and movie “Seas-biscuit” most experts say equine art remains a favorite among collectors and artists due to the timeless appeal of the horse.

“The horse is an exquisite animal,” explained Sarah Crampton, publisher of Equine Vision Magazine, a quarterly publication with the mission of presenting fine art inspired by the horse to the art lovers who admire it. “Its intrinsic beauty, its lines, form and colors are appealing in itself. Then you add the movement–graceful yet powerful, strength mixed with gentleness–and who can resist? Many people make an emotional connection to the image of the horse on many levels. Perhaps they once owned a horse or dreamed of owning one or just admire the horse from afar.” She added that horses appeal to all ages and to men as well as women.

“We have a long history together, yet unlike other domestic animals, horses are still very much a part of the wild,” said photographer Sarah Prall, who is represented by Ellis & Lord Editions in Tucson, Ariz. “I believe that ultimately it is this experience that makes them so compelling to artists and collectors.”

An Artistic Appeal

The bond between man and horse is one with deep historic ties dating back at least 15,000 years to the cave paintings in Lascaux, France. “For centuries, the horse and humankind have been partnered in many of man’s endeavors, and this partnership was always reflected in the art of the day,” said Sheri Gordon, director of the Equine Art Guild (EAG), a group that boasts a membership of nearly 200 artists worldwide.

Even today’s horses hold a place in the hearts of many. From books and films such as “The Black Stallion,” “National Velvet” and “The Horse Whisperer” to racing greats such as Secretariat, Seattle Slew and countless others, horses have a firm place in recent history.

Robin Caspari, an artist who is represented by Durango International Fine Arts Gallery in Durango, Colo., said the prominence of the horse throughout history is understandable because horses are a “universal symbol that represents everything from strength and freedom to hope and devotion for mankind.”

This symbolism is just one of the reasons horses are so appealing as a subject for artists. “It’s the soul and the image of the horse that is so exciting to us–we can’t help ourselves” said Gordon. “They are at the same time both delicate and powerful; docile yet wild, and somehow unconquerable?”

Crampton said artists are drawn to horses “like a magnet.” She said several aspects of the animal, including its form, lines, shapes, movement and color are a “delight and a challenge to portray and attempt to capture on canvas.”

Also a delight for artists is the incredible diversity in the species. Equine art has an extensive range because the horse is utilized in a variety of ways in the form of thousands of different breeds. From the herding ponies and wild stallions of the West to racing thoroughbreds, rodeo, polo and show horses, every horse has amazing individuality. And that diversity gives artists an almost endless supply of subjects.

A Cavalry of Collectors

The appeal of equine art to collectors is equally as great and equally diverse, ranging from horse owners who flock to their particular niche, like racing or jumping, to simple horse lovers who have never owned one yet still admire the animal’s beauty.

“There is no animal or object on this planet that has shared experiences with the human race as the horse has,” said Caspari. “We were clearly put on this earth to share this partnership, and even non-horse enthusiasts are aware of this internal bond.”

“We have found the collectors of equine art to be eclectic, having an appreciative eye and an interest in the animal and the sport,” explained James Borynack, chairman and chief executive officer of Wally Findlay Galleries, a multi-chain company with galleries throughout the country.

The gallery’s East Hampton, N.Y., location recently hosted a show called “The Painted Horse,” which featured the equine paintings of Louis Heyrault, John Leone and Marine Oussedik. Borynack said the company has sold horse paintings successfully for more than 133 years, yet another testament to the wide appeal of the genre.

“Most collectors either own, have owned or just love horses,” said Gordon. “Some don’t necessarily like or love horses but want to hang large paintings of horses on their walls for status reasons. Having horses or being connected to them–in some circles–represents status, money and power.”

Popular Styles

The range in style for equine art is vast. However, many experts say collectors seem drawn to more realistic styles.

“Even though there is a market for all styles of art in the world of equine art, just as in the world of art as a whole, there is a tendency for a preference of the realistic portrayal of the horse, especially among horse owners,” said Crampton.

“The most popular works are the close-ups, or what I call detail shots,” said Prall. “I think it’s because people want to experience being close to the horse. It’s where the viewer feels that sense of presence the most.”

“We have found that classic, realistic and somewhat stylized form always seems to be most desirable, simply because it is representational,” said Borynack.

Creating realistic horse paintings require artists to invest extensive time and research into the subject, which can be an excellent selling point for collectors and a possible stumbling block for galleries.

“The horse is an extremely challenging subject,” said Crampton. “It’s not easy to portray horses without knowing them.”

Aside from knowing the intricacies of different horse breeds, artists must also be educated in properly portraying the horse’s activity and correct equipment required for each activity.

“Since many collectors of equine art are breeders or owners, it is critical that the correct bit, saddle, boots or wraps be shown,” explained Gordon. “Even a small error in detail could be enough to make a critical potential purchaser walk away from a sale. There can also be regional differences and ‘fashion of the day’ differences that can have an effect on the artwork, as what is perceived to be the correct presentation of the horse evolves over time.”

Sculpture is another popular extension of equine art. Many experts say collectors are drawn to the detail and grace of the horse’s body as depicted through sculpture. “Sculpture is an important part of the equine art world,” said Crampton. “It is a medium that is coming into its own in a big way,” said Gordon. “We see more and more three-dimensional work exhibited and sold than ever before.”

And though realism in equine art is popular, some artists say they have found great success in more abstract styles. “It doesn’t matter what creative position the artist places the horse in, it is the content of the art itself that is important,” said Caspari, who paints in both realistic and abstract styles. “If a painting transports the viewer so that [he has] an uplifting and personal experience with that piece of art, then it is effective.”

Jumping In

It is the mass appeal of equine art that makes it a marketable option for galleries. “Equine art has very broad and instant appeal, so it’s an easy art to deal with,” said Luis De Jesus, co-founder of Ellis & Lord Editions. “It really doesn’t require any more or any less effort than other genres.”

“Galleries should consider carrying equine art. There is rarely a person alive who has not stopped to look at a beautiful horse,” advised Caspari. “The horse is a symbol of power, beauty and strength, and, instinctively, all of us want to be able to appreciate and experience the raw power and beauty that the horse has.”

There are a variety of ways for galleries to make the leap into equine art. The first and probably most important step is research. The Equine Art Guild recommends galleries get in touch with local, state or national horse councils to request area demographics about horse population, breeders and types of horse activities. “This will give them an idea of the type of audience they can target specifically for the horse community,” said Gordon.

Another possibility is to plan an art event around a local horse event. “The Painted Horse” is an annual show at Wally Findlay Gallery that coincides with the Hampton Classic horse race held nearby. According to Borynack, the race attracts more than 100,000 spectators and equestrians from around the world. “Our marketing goal was to take advantage of the enormous potential of the Hampton Classic and the mind set it creates,” he said.

Crampton suggested galleries hold a special exhibition that can revolve around a specific style or medium with the common denominator of the show being the horse. “The gallery owner who knows his own clientele will have no trouble choosing a selection of equine art to add to his existing gallery image,” she added. “This can range from contemporary watercolors, sculpture, oils and acrylics to more traditional and realistically rendered works of art.”

Indeed, the sheer diversity found in equine art and its tremendous allure to collectors make it extremely appealing for galleries. The experts agree–in a neck-and-neck race for sales with your competition, having excellent equine art on your walls can help you win by a nose.

Hosting the Horse

For galleries that are considering bringing equine art into the mix, here are a few suggestions:

* Contact local, state and national horse guilds to request demographics on nearby horse communities.

* Plan an art event around a local horse event.

* Hold an exhibition featuring a variety of artists and styles around the central concept of the horse. “Manely Horses,” “Just Horses” and “The Power of the Horse” are titles that have been used by various art galleries.

SOURCES

* Durango International Fine Arts, (970) 247-2003

* Ellis & Lord Editions, (520) 529-7375

* Equine Art Guild, (306) 254-4418

* Equine Vision Magazine, 866-639-8107

* Wally Findlay Gallery, (631) 329-9794

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