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Hoofbeats and Heartbeats: the Horse in American Art

August 21 to November 21, 2010


The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky recently opened a groundbreaking exhibition on the horse in American Art which will coincide with the World Equestrian Games in 2010. Hoofbeats and Heartbeats will be the first significant exhibition to critically examine the role of the horse in American art, history and culture. (right: Maynard Dixon American, 1875-1946, Wild Horses of Nevada, 1927, Oil on canvas, 44 x 50 inches (framed 46 x 52 inches). Collection of Karges Family Trust)

Over 50 paintings and sculptures by famous artists such as William Dunton, Edward Hicks, Frederick Remington, Edward Troye, and Grant Wood will be brought together from some of the country's most prestigious museums including the Smithsonian American Art Museum in DC, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY, and the Museum of the American West in Los Angeles.

The exhibition will reflect four themes: The Horse as a Symbol of the Hero, as an Emblem of Freedom, the Horse at Work, and the Horse in People's Hearts. It will be accompanied by a 100 page scholarly catalogue with 50 color reproductions, contributions by prominent art historians and a welcome letter from First Lady Jane Beshear. The exhibition should have a lasting impact on American Art History; this will be the first time the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky has organized an exhibition of this stature.

"This will be our opportunity to showcase American Art, American history and American horses of many breeds and types for our visitors from all over the world," said Art Museum Director Kathy Walsh-Piper. "It also is a chance to show what Lexington's premier art museum can accomplish."

The goal of the exhibition is to engage visitors with the important role that the horse has played in the visual and cultural dialogue of America from the Revolutionary period to present day. The exhibition is scheduled to coincide with Lexington's hosting of the World Equestrian Games, a world championship event in eight equestrian sports and the largest equine sporting event ever held in the United States. We will host an extraordinary number of international visitors with an equestrian connection with whom we hope to share the unique importance of the horse in American life and art.

Horses have played a crucial role in building the United States. They have carried generals into battle, forged the trail of westward expansion, hustled for cowboys, and sprinted under jockeys for cheering fans. As such, horses become a meaningful part of American cultural identity symbolizing heroism, wildness, hard work, and prosperity. In art, the image of the horse reflects many larger political, cultural, and philosophical concerns of American society. This exhibition seeks to survey both the image of the horse in American art and how it reflects aspects of the nation's development.

The exhibition is divided into four sections that consider how the horse is pictured American art: on the battlefield, in scenes referencing freedom, as a vehicle for physical labor, and as a source of recreation and personal inspiration. These categories generally correspond to chronological periods from the late eighteenth century to present day.

Heroes: The Horse and the Battlefield examines the crucial role horses played in the history of America in warfare from the Revolution, through the Civil War and continuing with struggles with Native Americans.
Hoof Beats: The Horse as a Symbol of Freedom considers the role of horses in historical paintings depicting stories of individual liberty or emancipation. Horses also conveyed the physical freedom afforded by the vastness of the American geography, particularly for painters of the American West.
Horse Power: The Horse at Work in America investigates the important role horses played in the growth of America, building and maintaining the nation with their reliable strength and willing spirit. and providing transportation until the advent of the gasoline engine and automobile at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Heartbeats: America's Romance with Horses assesses the role of horses in the post-Industrial age, shifting from the realm of labor to that of pleasure and enjoyment in the form or horse racing and sport.

Essayists for the catalogue project are Kirk Savage, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh whose book Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America won the 1998 John Hope Franklin Prize for the best book published that year for American Studies; Jessica Dallow, associate professor at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, who is currently working on a book entitled, America's Steed: The Horse in American Visual Culture, 1830 to the Present; Sara Burns, a professor from the University of Indiana who authored Pastoral Inventions: Rural Life in Nineteenth-Century American Art and Culture (1989) and Inventing the Modern Artist: Art and Culture in Gilded Age America that was awarded the 1996 Charles C. Eldredge Prize for outstanding research in the field of American art; and consulting curator Ingrid Cartwright, an assistant professor of art history at Western Kentucky University who has authored many articles on equestrian themes.


To view wall texts from the exhibition please click here.

To view extended labels from the exhibition please click here.

To view additional images from the exhibition please click here.


(above: William Herbert Dunton American, 1878-1936, The Horse Wrangler, 1928, Oil on canvas, 25 x 20 inches (framed 32 _ x 23 _ x 2 inches). San Antonio Art League and Museum)


(above: William Herbert Dunton American, 1878-1936, McMullin, Guide, 1934, Oil on canvas, 60 x 56 inches (framed 64 x 59 7/8 x 2 _ inches). Stark Museum of Art, Orange, TX, 31.21.222)


(above: Harry Louis Freund American, 1905-1999, Reeds Spring, Missouri, Horse Show, ca. 1933-34, Oil on canvas, 25 _ x 34 inches. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor)


(above: Edward Hicks American, 1780-1849, Washington at the Delaware, 1849, Oil on canvas, 28 x 35 _ inches (framed 34 x 41 _ inches). Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA, 77.1271. Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch)

Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:

and biographical information on artists cited in this essay in America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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