To celebrate the Year of the Horse, the National Gallery, London, has posted “Whistlejacket” by George Stubbs, as its Painting of the Month.
Whistlejacket, George Stubbs, about 1762
The National Gallery also has a Chinese Zodiac Trail which explores the symbolism of animals in eastern and western traditions.
According to the Gallery’s zodiac trail, the horse is one of the most admired animals of the Chinese zodiac. People born in the Year of the Horse are independent, value freedom, and are hard-working, adventurous, intelligent and successful. They embody the traits of a fellow creature who has accompanied us to the end of the world and, sometimes, back again…..
like Phar Lap
Phar Lap at Trentham Racecourse. Making New Zealand :Negatives and prints from the Making New Zealand Centennial collection. Ref: MNZ-2372-1/2-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23120509
This photo was taken in 1931 before Phar Lap’s trip to the United States. Not long after this date, Phar Lap died in San Francisco. He is probably New Zealand’s most famous racehorse, renowned for his great heart and his speed and, of course, the winnings and joy he brought to many people, during the gloomy days of the Great Depression. Timaru, his birthplace, has an outstanding memorial sculpture of Phar Lap.
Another famous New Zealand horse, perhaps less well-known than Phar Lap, is Bess (Zelma) . New Zealand sent thousands of horses to the First World War. Only four returned home. Bess was one of the four. She was born in 1910, and served in Egypt in 1915, Sinai in 1916, Palestine in 1917, France in 1918, Germany in 1919, and was in England in 1920, before coming home to New Zealand in July 1920. She died , on duty, in October 1934.
This is the simple, but eloquent, memorial to Bess. It bears an Arabic inscription, as well as one in English.
Bess Memorial; Credit Jock Phillips and Chris Maclean (top image, c. 1986), Powles collection; Imelda Bargas and Tim Shoebridge, 2010
As part of New Zealand’s commemoration of the start of World War One, in 1914, a hundred years ago , there will be a special Anzac Day service at the Bess Memorial, on
April 25 2014, 9 a.m. Forest Road (Off Parewanui Road), Bulls.
The service will honour Bess, and all the horses that didn’t come home, to their New Zealand pastures. In addition, “The Friends of Bess are hoping to publish an information book on Bess for WW100, and to improve the Memorial to Bess site for better public access and protection from the elements if funding can be obtained.”
I like that, in the Year of the Horse, we have this special tribute taking place in honour of the horses who travelled, with their human companions, on what must have been one of the strangest, and most terrible, adventures of their lives. The Good Steed by Marcus Wilson tells the tale of the New Zealand Military Horse, from the angle of the horse, in The Anglo-Boer War and World War One. It is a story worth telling; worth remembering.
Another story which honours the nature of the horse, and looks at the world from the horse’s point of view, is Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. Though written in 1877, it remains one of the best-selling books of all time. The 1915 edition of Black Beauty was illustrated by the artist Lucy Kemp-Welch. Lucy Kemp-Welch painted horses in both peace-time and in war-time. One of her horses-in-war paintings Big Guns to the Front is displayed at the National Museum in Wales.
I can’t find an online image of that painting but, at our own Christchurch Art Gallery, there is a wonderful selection of artwork, featuring horses, collated for the Chinese New Year. My favourite painting , in the collection, is one by Lucy Kemp-Welch, titled In the Orchard [Sunlight Through the Leaves] 1904-1905, which was acquired by the Art Gallery in 1932.
To me, this scene of mother and foal represents the apogee of the loving, loyal, peaceful, feminine side of the horse.
How lucky we have been to have these beautiful creatures at our side, throughout history. Long may our shared story continue but, hopefully, with more love and understanding on our part. An understanding that, if we develop greater empathy with our equine family , we will be better humans.
May you have a Happy, Successful, Year of the Horse.
If you would like to seek, or refresh, your inner horse, take a look at Cindy Knoke’s blog and her gorgeous post on the Free Range Horses of Patagonia The spirit of the Year of the Horse is bound to soar within you when you see Cindy’s photos.