It’s one of my favorite paintings. Man and horse stand together. The darkness of his skin matches the darkness of the horse’s coat. The red of his shorts matches the red of the blanket covering the horse’s back and the red rope of his bridle. The man is calmly considering the horse’s cautious approach to the sea, one arm resting on the horse’s back, the other holding the rope reins loosely. There is a sense of togetherness between man and beast.
It is an elegant painting, beautifully composed. The horse’s skittishness contrasts with the man’s stillness. The light gleams off them both, hinting at muscles under skin. They stand out darkly against the lightness of sand, sky and water.
The artist was Alfred de Dreux. He was born and worked in France with frequent trips to England, and was influenced by British animal painters like Constable and Landseers as well as by the French artist Gericault who was a friend of his uncle. He came to public attention with a painting called “L’interieur d’ecurie”, and went on to become a well known painter of horses and a popular painter of portraits.
You can see his skill in both here, as well as his love and knowledge of horses. Horse and man are brought to life, our eyes drawn to them, so that we wonder what it is they are doing there together by the sea. And which sea? The man so lightly clothed it must be warm, the horse without saddle and with a bridle that looks as if it is made of rope.
“Africain tenant un cheval au bord d’une mer” – “African Holding a Horse Beside the Sea”. I wonder: which sea are they beside? We see so much and know so little…