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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Man O War - Racehorse of the Century

One of the hardest images to capture on canvas is that of a race horse, especially as the animal streaks across the ground, displaying more grace than should be possible from such a large animal. Equine beauty is a melding of subtly flexed muscles below layers of dark skin. Capturing the flow of these muscles in mid-flight is an art form, one that artists have dedicated decades of their lives to perfecting, researching how tendons and ligaments connect, and how bone and sinew flex and stretch. The work is almost as much as study of biology and movement as it is a creative process. In fact, some of the oldest known cave paintings in Europe show proof of man's eternal fascination with horses, painting stylized outlines of horses on rock walls.

A Man O War picture is a single captivating frame of light, shadow and color translating pure movement into a snapshot of paint or sketched beauty. Charcoal is smudged, pencil sketching is erased and put to canvas again and again in a feverish effort to show the spirit of this uniquely famous thoroughbred. Known as one of the most successful and famous race horses ever to compete on a race track, Man O War was bred to be a winner, collecting many winning purses in his career. Even today, the good people of Kentucky remember Man O War fondly, his place in history assured and on display as a bronze sculpture. His memorial forever reminds race aficionados of the courage and unquenchable desire to win, held in the heart of the legendary horse.

Today, that legendary spirit can be seen within the brush strokes of a Man O War picture, the hooves stamping down on dusty race tracks against a background of bluegrass Kentucky countryside. The obsession for all things related to horses in Kentucky is captured in the picture, the warm colors of the image acting as a window to a long ago time, not long past the start of the 20th century. The First World War was still raging in Europe, but news of the progress of the war had to make room in Kentucky newspapers for the latest wins of Man O War. The chestnut colored winner is a challenge to compose on canvas and paper, painting his long stride, an elegant gait capable of stretching a lead of several lengths over his closest competitors.

Own a Man O War picture and sit back to study the unique equine beauty of the image. Sip some Kentucky bourbon and be taken back to days when nostrils flared on race horses as they waited for the race to start, rearing with clouds of panted, steamy excitement. This is an image that deserves to be framed as a historical work of horse racing, a perfectly rendered composition of heart and muscle pumping to reach the finish line. Treat the picture as a simple tribute to Man O War, or as a metaphor to grab life and always strive to cross the finish line with that same unflinching spirit.


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