The horse appeared in prehistoric cave paintings such as those in the Lascaux caves, estimated to be 16,000 years old.
Prehistoric hill figures have been carved in the shape of the horse,specifically the Uffington White Horse,an example of the tradition of horse carvings upon hill-sides,which having existed for thousands of years continues into the current age.
The equine image was common in ancient Egyptian and Grecian art, more refined images displaying greater knowledge of equine anatomy appeared in Classical Greece and in later Roman work. Horse drawn chariots were commonly depicted in ancient works, for example on the Standard of Ur circa 2500BC. The Horses of Saint Mark are the sole surviving example from Classical Antiquity of a monumental statue of the Quadriga.
The horse was less prevalent in early Christian and Byzantine art, overwhelmed by the dominance of religious themes.
The Renaissance period starting in the 14th century brought a resurgence of the horse in art. Painters of this period who portrayed the horse included Paolo Uccello, Benozzo Gozzoli, Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, Raphael, Andrea Mantegna and Titian. In 1482 the Duke of Milan Ludovico il Moro, commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to create the largest equestrian statue in the world, a monument to the duke’s father Francesco, however Leonardo’s horse was never completed, (until it was replicated in the late 20th century).
In the Baroque era the tradition of equine portraiture was established, with artists such as Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck and Diego Velázquez portraying regal subjects atop their mounts. Equine sporting art also became established in this era as the tradition of horse racing emerged under Tudor patronage.
The mid 18th century saw the emergence of Romanticism, French artists Théodore Géricault and Eugène Delacroix were proponents of this movement and both portrayed the horse in many of their works.
George Stubbs born in 1724 became so associated with his equestrian subjects that he was known as “the horse painter”. A childhood interest in anatomy was applied to the horse he spent eighteen months dissecting equine carcasses and had an engraver produce book plates of his studies. These anatomical drawings aided later artists.
Equine sporting art was popular in the 19th century, notable artists of the period being Benjamin Marshall, James Ward, Henry Thomas Alken, James Pollard and John Frederick Herring, Sr.. Horse racing gradually became more established in France and Impressionist painter Edgar Degas painted many early racing scenes. Degas was one of the first horse painters to use photographic references. Edweard Muybridge’s photographic studies of animal motion had a huge influence on equine art as they allowed artists greater understanding of the horses gaits.
Sir Alfred Munnings was an acclaimed painter working in England during the 20th century, he was elected president of the Royal Academy in 1944. He specialised in equine subjects, including horse racing, portraiture and studies of gypsies and rural life.