This coming Saturday is a big day in the horse racing world! You don’t need us to tell you that May 6 is the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The Virginia Gold Cup is also this Saturday, just down the road from us at Great Meadow in The Plains.

There are so many amazing horses, talented people, spectacular stories, and fun facts associated with both of these big events – we could never share them all. Here are just a few stories about some of the four-legged stars connected with the collections here at the NSLM.

Sea Hero
This long-shot bay colt won the Derby in 1993. Today, Sea Hero is the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner and is enjoying a life of retirement standing at stud in Turkey.

Sea Hero
Tessa Pullan (English, b. 1953), Sea Hero, 1995, bronze, on stone base, 88 x 29 ½ x 96 inches, including base, Bequest of Paul Mellon, 1999, Acquired 2014 [(c) Tessa Pullan]
Determine
One of the very few grey horses to win the Derby (only eight have ever done so), Determine won in 1954 – the same year the National Sporting Library was founded.

Man O’War
One of the most famous names in American horse racing never actually ran in the Kentucky Derby, but his progeny went on to win quite a few. The chestnut stallion’s offspring included 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral, and he is found in the bloodlines of most top thoroughbreds, all the way up to American Pharaoh (2015) and Nyquist (2016). Another son was steeplechaser Battleship, the first American horse to win the English Grand National Steeplechase in 1938.

Marilyn Newmark (American, 1928-2013), Man O’War, 1977, bronze, 10 ½ x 14 ¾ x 3 ½ inches, Gift of Jacqueline B. Mars, 2016.  Newmark, who is known primarily for her equestrian sculpture, created this posthumous portrait after referencing the many photographs documenting the champion thoroughbred.

Gallant Fox
Gallant Fox was the second horse to ever win the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont races (1930), and the first to be referred to as a “Triple Crown” winner by the press. Gallant Fox: A Memoir, written in 1931 by the horse’s owner, William Woodward, Sr., is one of the scarcest books ever printed by the Derrydale Press. The copy in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room here at the NSLM is numbered one of fifty (but the whereabouts of only five copies are currently recorded).

The Celebrated Horse Lexington, by Boston, out of Alice Carneal, and Churchill Downs, Derby Day, c. 1946, Published by Currier & Ives, Gift of Mrs. Parker Poe, 1978

Lexington
Lexington never ran in the Derby either. In fact, he died in 1875, the first year the Kentucky Derby was run. But Lexington was the leading sire in America for decades. This print in the NSLM collection features a portrait of Lexington after Louis Maurer (German/American, 1832-1932). The portrait is surrounded by images of the first 71 Derby winners – from Aristides (1875), up through Hoop Jr. (1945).

Secretariat
You can see a portrait of the 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, along with Derby winners Smarty Jones (2004), Barbaro (2006), and many other gorgeous thoroughbreds in our newest exhibition Andre Pater: In a Sporting Light.

Andre Pater (Polish/American, b. 1953), Secretariat, 2004, pastel on board, 20 x 24 inches, Private Collection [(c) Andre Pater]

Happy Race Day!

For those of you who have been to one of my gallery talks, you’ve probably figured out that I love to share ideas about sporting art, sporting culture, and related trivia. It’s a passion to bring this material to broader audiences. Put me behind a podium, however, introducing someone with an impressive list of credentials, and I’m like a deer in headlights! All of a sudden I’m responsible for summarizing someone’s accomplishments. This is the worst kind of pressure, and I am not good at rote memorization.

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (American, 1819 - 1905) American Deer, 1857 oil on canvas, 7 ⅛ x 5 ⅝ inches Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Timothy Greenan, 2011
Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (American, 1819 – 1905) American Deer, 1857, oil on canvas, 7 ⅛ x 5 ⅝ inches National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Timothy Greenan, 2011

I like to think I’m more like A.F. Tait’s American Deer when presenting gallery talks, poised and dignified (with a dose of caffeine). You might have seen this painting in the second floor Museum galleries, but it is currently off view. Although Tait painted several full-size canvases of deer, some reminiscent of Sir Edwin Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen in the Museums of Scotland collection, the small three-quarter portrait in the NSLM collection is unusual for him. It depicts an eight-point buck with a velvet rack and summer coat framed by foliage. Fun fact – Did you know that antlers used for sparring in the fall are rich with nerves and sensitive to pain when in velvet? Bucks are extremely aware of their racks and avoid contact with objects such as tree limbs during this time.

Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) Monarch of the Glen; National Museums Scotland; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/monarch-of-the-glen-184975
Edwin Landseer (English, 1802-1873), Monarch of the Glen, 1851
National Museums Scotland
image source: http://www.artuk.org/artworks/monarch-of-the-glen-184975

Landseer’s magnificent portrait of a red deer in the Highlands shows the buck proudly displaying his twelve-point rack and thick winter coat. Paintings like these were embraced by an ever-increasing urban population as windows into nature.

I know I would not get tired of looking at Landseer’s painting. Working in a converted 1804 Federal-style house means that the Curatorial offices in the Museum are below ground level. Mine is the only one with a window. I enjoy the filtered sunlight and occasionally get a glimpse of the lawn service crew mowing the grass.

Curator of Art's window

I think I speak for George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian John Connolly, Curator of Permanent Collections Nicole Stribling, and myself in saying, we enjoy sharing the topics we love with  like-minded people instead of just a computer screen. Gallery Talks are about sharing ideas and intended to be informal chats that last about a half hour. If you’ve been wondering if you would like to commit your Wednesday afternoon to a Gallery Talk, know that we are down in the trenches and looking forward to coming up for some good conversation. See you next Wednesday at 2 pm!


pfeifferClaudia Pfeiffer has been the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art at the National Sporting Library & Museum since the position was underwritten by the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Foundation in 2012. Her primary focus is the research, design, interpretation, writing, and installation of exhibitions. E-mail Claudia at cpfeiffer@nationalsporting.org

The majority of works in the art collection of the NSLM are by British or American artists. However, we also have some excellent examples by continental European artists. Our only painting by a Dutch artist also happens to be one of the oldest paintings in the collection.

Portrait of a Horse in a Landscape, c. 1690, oil on panel, 18 7/8 x 23 ¼ inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Mrs. Henry H. Weldon, 2008
Portrait of a Horse in a Landscape, c. 1690, oil on panel, 18 7/8 x 23 ¼ inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Mrs. Henry H. Weldon, 2008

Portrait of a Horse in a Landscape was painted by Abraham van Calraet (Dutch, 1642–1722) around 1690. Calraet was from the city of Dordrecht, in the southwest region of The Netherlands. He lived and worked during the later half of the great Dutch “Golden Age,” a time of amazing artistic production, when artists like Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals, and Judith Leyster flourished. Calraet painted still lifes, landscapes, and small horse portraits, or “Pferdeporträts,” which were increasingly popular in the late-17th century. He likely studied with another Dordrecht painter, the more well-known Aelbert Cuyp (Dutch, 1620-1691). Both artists often signed their works with their initials “A.C.”, which led to some confusion. For many years – centuries, actually – works by Calraet were attributed to Cuyp. In many instances, Cuyp’s signature was falsely added to the paintings. It wasn’t until the early-20th century that scholars started identifying which of those works were actually by Calraet.

Calraet_head detail

The dark bay horse in the NSLM painting has a broad chest, substantial build, and a kind eye. He is shown standing in a field with no tack and no humans to be seen, though he is shod and clearly well cared for. Most of the background is made up of sky and clouds. The landscape below features a small group of cows lounging near the river bank (a common scene in Dutch paintings of this time period). The modestly sized oil painting is on wood panel, rather than canvas.

Calraet_hoof detail
detail of hooves, with horseshoe nails
Calraet_cow detail
detail of cows in background

It is not known whether the painting was commissioned by the owner of the horse, or if the artist chose the subject because it would sell well on the open market. But we do know that the exact same dark bay horse appears in another Calraet painting from the same time period.

Abraham van Calraet, Horses in a Marsh Landscape, c.1690, oil on panel, 15 x 20 1/8 inches, Private Collection
Abraham van Calraet, Horses in a Marsh Landscape, c.1690, oil on panel, 15 x 20 1/8 inches, Private Collection

Here the dark bay has been joined by a chestnut friend, and a more typical Dutch landscape (with a meadow and windmills) is shown in the background.

Another Calraet work which bears similarities to our painting is in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

A Brown and White Horse with a Saddle Beside It, 1675-1685, oil on oak panel, 13 ½ x 17 ½ inches, Victoria & Albert Museum, Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend, 1868, © Victoria & Albert Museum
A Brown and White Horse with a Saddle Beside It, 1675-1685, oil on oak panel, 13 ½ x 17 ½ inches, Victoria & Albert Museum, Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend, 1868, © Victoria & Albert Museum

Like the NSLM piece, this painting is also on wood panel, and a lone horse is the focus. While this horse is a paint, the conformation and sweet expression are very similar to our dark bay. The background is much darker, and the foreground here shows barnyard supplies – a 17th century saddle and tack, a curry comb and brush, a bucket, and a clog shoe. All three of these paintings include a feature the artist and his contemporaries often incorporated into compositions – the tree or tree stump in the very near foreground.

The NSLM’s Calraet horse is quite well traveled (those Dutch warmbloods are such jet setters). During its lifetime, the painting has been included in exhibitions in London, Dordrecht, Paris, Birmingham, Alabama, New Orleans, and Baltimore, Maryland.  In 2008, the work came to stay at its new home here at the NSLM, when it was generously donated by Mrs. Henry H. Weldon.

Portrait of a Horse in a Landscape is currently on view in the permanent collection galleries of the Museum. Stop by and meet him soon!