It is a busy scene. There are horses, dogs, a goat; the stable lad is working hard. The horses are elegant, fine-boned but well-muscled, with long legs and long necks. It looks as if a couple of the horses have just been ridden. One is saddled, the other is being sponged down, and there is a saddle resting close by. There are other horses in the stalls, one wearing a blanket.
Light is pouring in through the single window and coming from where we, the viewers, are standing. It is above and around and helps focus our attention on the stable lad and the two horses close to him. Everything else is fading into shadow, though detailed enough for us to see and enjoy small details before returning to the central focus.
But something is happening we cannot see – the stable lad is looking at something outside the picture. One of the dogs and the goat are alert and facing the same direction. The horses’ heads are partially turned, their ears pricked. As for us, we can only wonder what has attracted their attention.
The artist is Franz Adam, one of the greatest painters of horses and battle scenes of the 19th century. His was a time when horses were extremely important, partners in war and transportation during war and peace. A war artist had to be able to paint horses very well. Many applied this knowledge and skills to their work in times of peace as well.
Franz Adam was an artist who saw and painted war. His father taught him art – he was son and student of the German artist Albrecht Adam, and until his father’s death worked with him as assistant and collaborator. That was one foundation for his work – another was his service in the Austrian army during the Franco-Prussian war. He sketched scenes in the field that would become the basis for some of his later work.
This painting is of a more peaceful scene, and yet we wonder. There is a sense that something is happening, just out of sight. We know that war is full of danger, sudden change, death – but what lurks outside during peace?
Once an artist has seen war, what happens to their sense of peace?