With his latest London exhibition at Belgravia’s Osborne Studio Gallery this November, equine artist Hubert de Watrigant considers the patrician allure of horseflesh and the evolution of how he has captured it
Article by Rupert Watkins
The nobility and flowing energy of the horse has enthralled and inspired artists for centuries. The horse in art has roots back to pre-historic times; as a mount for kings and warriors and then in the modern age the focal point of ‘the sport of kings,’ it has held and continues to hold a potent allure. For renowned French equine artist Hubert de Watrigant capturing these patrician creatures has been a lifelong passion, “the horse is an animal with its own distinctive physical qualities. To bring a horse to life on canvas you must study and understand the whole being from bone structure to musculature, gait, movement and reaction.”
Studying the musculature of the horse has form, the legendary English sporting artist George Stubbs shut himself away in Lincolnshire for 18 months to do just that whilst perfecting his technique. Hubert has likewise spent years developing his style; early in his career he concentrated on equine portraits but found that this stifled experimentation, “you know what the end result will be – there’s no surprise to the process.” From the late 1980s, he began to focus on exhibition work though kept the evolution of his style gradual, “you can lose people if you move too fast,” he explains, “you need to allow time for people to see and adapt to how your style is evolving otherwise they are disappointed and wonder if you’ve lost your touch.”
Throughout his career, Hubert has experimented with paper, wood and board and enjoys mixing mediums such as pastel on paint. That said, he still finds the simplicity of pencil to be extraordinarily expressive. With his focus on exhibitions, he believes there must be an overarching principle to bind the pieces on show together. For this November’s exhibition in Motcomb Street, that theme is his own evolution as an equine artist.
For an artist whose family have been immersed in the racing world, his father was a breeder and his uncle a trainer and Hubert spent time in his very early career working with bloodstock agents, it is of little surprise that the race course is what enthrals him the most. The all-consuming vibrancy, passions and obsessions of those who live and breathe race horses is clearly visible in his work.
Though the eventing, polo and hunting worlds have not proven as fertile ground for Hubert’s pictures, one other ancient and revered arena has long exerted a hold over him: bull-fighting. “I love the bull for his suppleness, strength and speed. When we see the spectacle of man, risking his life in confrontation with the bull, we are entering another world. In our own age man is attempting total control, trying to be the ‘master of his fate.’” Clearly the grace and suppleness of any of the animals he paints remains a constant source of wonder to Hubert as he strives to capture their almost human qualities.
Away from the canvas, Hubert has enjoyed a long a fruitful collaboration with Hermès, the French leather and fashion house. As he disarmingly puts it, “I simply opened the door, back in 1978, of this ‘grande maison’. Hermes was founded in 1837 to sell expensive, leather: once specialising in equestrian chic. The challenge for an artist is to follow their rules; the Hermes classic scarf or ‘square’ must conform to certain dimensions, is limited to particular colours and so forth.” Despite that, Hubert is one of the house’s most iconic illustrators and his scarves remain keenly coveted.
From the misty morning gallops at Newmarket or Chantilly to the social excitement and high stakes of Longchamp or Ascot week, the racecourse and a love of horseflesh is one of the great Anglo-French bonds. Artistically, the two countries have produced many sublime equine artists, Hubert points to a mix of Stubbs, Theodore Gericault (1791-1824), Sir Alfred Munnings, Rene Princeteau (1843-1914) and Toulouse-Lautrec as his most admired painters, “it is of course very personal these choices but for me, above all, they arouse emotion – they demand a response.”
Over the years, Hubert can discreetly list horse lovers ranging from the Queen through to the Rothchilds as clients for his expressive and flowing works. This year’s exhibition at the Osborne Studio Gallery in Belgravia’s Motcomb Street runs from November 6th to 29th and for anyone with a drop of sporting blood in them should not be missed.
Enquiries: Osborne Studio Gallery (OSG), 2 Motcomb Street, Belgravia, London SW1X 8JU / 0207 2359667 / www.osg.uk.com/exhibitions/hubert-de-watrigant-2018/ / http://hubertdewatrigant.com/