Horse Play

If painter George Stubbs had lived in the era of the Trapper Keeper (instead of the 18th century when there was just drab old paper in sheets), Stubbs would have a horse-covered binder, possibly with "George + Bandit = BFF" scratched in the margin in ball point pen. He loved horses. He drew them, painted them, sketched meticulous anatomical studies of them. His works are similar to the kind of equestrian depictions seen in textbooks, on posters, in calendar pages, any place generic horse art fits. The difference is that he was the pioneer. He's like Edgar Dégas: Sure, plenty of people have painted and drawn dancers since him, but Dégas made it a worthy cause, full of passion and movement and realism. He set the standard, as did Stubbs.

The Kimbell Art Museum honors Stubbs with the first exhibit to focus on this theme of his work and the overlooked achievements of it as both fine art and science. Called Stubbs and the Horse, the exhibit features many paintings on loan from the descendants of Stubbs' patrons, who showed off the paintings of their prize horses in their country houses--the ones they were removed from for the show. Stubbs worked during the golden age of horse breeding, when the Thoroughbred was created and developed in England. But these aren't just portraits of four-legged possessions. Stubbs' works are alive, heroic, noble, beautiful, emotional--qualities not given to common beasts. He made them individuals, full of life and drama. I wasn't the girl in homeroom with the Trapper Keeper covered in horses. (The theme of ours was black and white fluffy puppies, if you must know.) Horses scared us; they were too big and too powerful. Plus they weren't very fuzzy, they didn't make that cute squeaky whimper when hugged too tightly, and they weren't allowed to sleep in the bed. Horses charted somewhere on the best pets list near iguanas and hermit crabs. Even slinky, freaky ferrets had a higher spot.

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