Lunar New Year: Year of the Horse Day 14

Pierre Bonnard, Circus Rider, 1894, Oil on cardboard on wood panel

Pierre Bonnard, Circus Rider, 1894. Oil on cardboard on wood panel, 10 5/8 x 13 3/4 in. Acquired 1947. The Phillips Collection, Washington DC.

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

Family Ties

Painting of a woman on a horse at a circus by Gifford Beal

Gifford Beal, Center Ring, 1922. Oil on canvas, 22 x 26 1/8 in. Acquired 1922. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

One of my favorite paintings in the permanent collection is Gifford Beal’s Center Ring (1922). I am always drawn to it when I am perusing the second floor galleries—there’s just something about it. It feels alive. If there is one painting I would love to see come alive (à la Night at the Museum) it would be this. It would be like…going to the circus.

Did you know that Gifford Beal was actually the uncle of Marjorie Phillips, Duncan Phillips’s wife? It seems artistic talent ran in the family!

Jane Clifford, Marketing Intern