At the Races

Each week for the duration of the exhibition, we’ll focus on works of art from Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque, on view Feb. 4 through April 30, 2017.

Jockey, The_Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Jockey, 1899. Crayon, brush, and spatter lithograph, printed in six colors. Key stone printed in black, color stones in turquoise-green, red, brown, gray-beige and blue on China paper. State II/II, 20 3/8 × 14 1/4 in. Private collection

In 1899, Toulouse-Lautrec’s family committed him without consent to a clinic on the rue de Madrid, Neuilly. He expressed despair to his father: “I am locked up and anything that is locked up dies.” Excursions to the Bois de Boulogne, where the famous Longchamp Racecourse was located, provided him with some diversions. His final lithographs show animals, sporting events, and outdoor activities, subjects fondly remembered from his youth. The Jockey is from a series of four racing prints. This dynamic work, the only one published, places the viewer amid the action. The jockeys rise out of their saddles and encourage their horses down the track. The print shows Toulouse-Lautrec’s awareness of Eadweard Muybridge’s pioneering photographs of a horse at a gallop and Edgar Degas’s influential paintings and drawings of horses with their jockeys.

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