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  • Writer's pictureKathy Troxler

Equestrian Art! Alfred DeDreux and the "Mystery Gait"

Art by Alfred De Dreux

Throughout most of history, horses said the same thing about their owners as cars do today.

They were symbols of power and status. You had to "be somebody" to own a horse. Just like today, fancy, fast or powerful horses were a status symbol. And if you had one, you wanted to flaunt it!

From the time when prehistoric people first painted images of horses on cave walls, horses have been the ultimate symbol of speed and power so it's not surprising that there are no shortages of equestrian images from all eras, and I'm interested in all of them!

Today, I'm sharing some by Alfred DeDreux, a French painter born in 1810. I don't know exactly how many paintings he did during his lifetime, however, an internet search for images by DeDreux will return hundreds of examples of his work and I love his horses! At least, I love them when they're standing or at walk. Just look at them! When you look at the examples of his work shown below, you get the impression that he's actually touched a horse. That he really knows what the legs and muscles feel like.

Art by Alfred DeDreux

But here's the interesting thing! Why would someone so obviously familiar with his subject, someone that is getting all the details so right, get it so wrong at the gallop? To be fair to DeDreux, he wasn't the only artist depicting (what looks to me like) an obviously impossible way of going!

Art by Alfred De Dreux

Why, Why, Why !?

It made me wonder! So I did a little research.

It turns out that DeDreux (and all the other artists of his day) didn't have advantages that we take for granted. Alfred DeDreux died in 1860.

Therefore, DeDreux died before seeing this!

Photographic study by Eadweard Muybridge 1878

What is this? This was the first "movie" made of a galloping horse that slowed down the motion of the horse to the point where you could actually see the sequence of the legs! This photographic study of a galloping horse was done by English photographer Eadweard Muybridge in 1878. He was initially hired by the governor of California (Leland Stanford) to help settle a hotly debated question of the times- the question of whether or not all four feet are off of the ground when a horse trots! Muybridge did that series of photos in 1872. Then, in June of 1878, he set out to capture the gallop. He arranged a series of cameras along the edge of a track. Each one fired individually and then the images were put into a "stop animation film". If you click on the picture above it will redirect you to the internet page that shows how the photos ran as the first "movie" of a horse in motion at the gallop.

So, question answered! Artists painting before 1878 had never had the opportunity to see a horse gallop in slow motion. Cutting edge technology of the day!

Technical details aside, I think that DeDreux had a real understanding of horses and in some portraits a genuine knack for capturing their personalities. He painted many portraits of ladies riding sidesaddle. Most look as though they were all posed on an identical model horse. That would probably have been the most convenient way to go about creating such a portrait. You get the sense that in those pictures, the rider that was the real focus of the piece, and the horse was a prop or part of "the set".

However, there are other examples where you see a bit more of the horse's individual personality. Something about the horse that captured the artist's eye. That's what intrigues me about the example below. Do you see that quizzical eyeball? Once upon a time I had a horse named Highlander and he gave me that quizzical look on more than one occasion.

Art by DeDreux-Photo Mk Highlander

Orginally posted August 2107

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