Pierre Bonnard’s oil painting, Circus Rider (1894), immediately called out to me when I sat down to write a little something to celebrate the Chinese Year of the Horse. It was up in one of the galleries I was often stationed in when I first started at The Phillips Collection as a Museum Assistant. It was one of about six works by Bonnard that were up in the same room, and even though it was smallest in terms of pure size, it stood out to me as the giant in the room. The power of the horse charging through the painting, the rider balancing carefully on his back, and the quick brush strokes that perfectly conveyed the speed with which they moved struck me in a way the other works did not. I am not the only one who has been struck by Circus Rider. Julia Alvarez, author of In the Time of the Butterflies, found this painting particularly compelling when she visited The Phillips Collection.
I also felt a special connection to this work because of the vaulting lessons I took at summer camp when I was around nine years old. Vaulting, usually described as gymnastics on horseback, is incredibly difficult. Most of us didn’t get much further than being able to stand up on a moving horse; though we were whizzes at the dismount (gravity certainly makes one easier than the other). Every time I look at this painting it reminds me of the nervous exhilaration I felt as I learned to stand up on that horse’s back, and how much more courage this fearless rider must have had. Courage is a quality all artists must share. Whether your art is performing on horseback or working with oil paints you must dare to put a part of yourself out there and hope to make a connection with your audience.
Kaitlin McClure, Membership Services
It was unknown to me when we started this Year of the Horse series that there was a little bit of important trivia to be learned. Thanks to Ianthe Gergel, we now know that the surname “Phillips” means “son of Phillip”, and that the given name Philip comes from the Latin name Philippus, meaning “fond of horses.”