• Lemperz Sale, Munich, May 1970, lot 429.
• France, Private Collection
Autograph replica with slight variations, The Racehorse and its Jockey followed by the Owner, oil on canvas, 38 x 49 cm. (15 x 19 5/16 in.), signed lower left, private collection (cat. MCR 397).
Alfred De Dreux, Horses, and Géricault
Alfred De Dreux’ work is intimately connected with the equestrian world which remained an inexhaustible source of inspiration for him.
Born into a well-off family in Northern France, the painter grew up in a refined family atmosphere where art had a privileged place. His father, Pierre-Anne Dedreux, who had won a medal in architecture, went to the Villa Medici and stayed there with his family. However what was more important than the Eternal City for the direction in which Alfred’s talent would develop was the influence of Gericault who was a close family friend. The young artist had in fact been portrayed three times by the already famous painter before he was welcomed into the studio which Gericault shared in Paris with Alfred’s uncle, Pierre-Joseph Dedreux-Dorcy. Alfred admired his master as much for his qualities as a horseman as for his painting. Upon Géricault’s premature death, Alfred entered Léon Cogniet’s studio. The young artist acquired a taste for direct contact with nature from this master landscape painter who took his students to paint at Fontainebleau.
In 1825, De Dreux painted his first important canvas, a copy of Gericault’s Mazzepa which he kept until his death. The same year, his father encountered financial difficulties which ended in bankruptcy in 1832: from being a supplement, Alfred De Dreux’ painting became a profession. In 1831, at barely twenty-one years old, the artist triumphed at the Salon with A Horse Leaping Over a Ditch and Stable Interior. This success was marked the beginning of a soaring career characterized by abundant commissions.
A Dreamer Dandy at the Horse Races
A fashionable but secretive dandy, a silent dreamer, De Dreux was as often at home at the foot of Montmartre where he had several studios as he was at the horse races where he detailed horses, jockeys, and owners with a trained eye. Like many of his contemporaries, the artist was strongly influenced by English lifestyle and art. It was a time of enthusiastic discovery of English landscape painters and their supple picturesque beauty as could be seen in Constable’s and Bonington’s luminosity. Furthermore, painting of sports originated in England where organized horse races had been established since 1728. De Dreux went across the Channel for the first time in the following of Louis-Philippe in 1844, and then he followed the Orleans into exile in 1848. Upon his return to France, rallying to the Empire, he continued to travel to Great Britain regularly where the court appreciated his talent.
Our canvas, realized between 1845 and 1850, is contemporary with Alfred De Dreux’ first voyages to England. In Paris, the artist possessed a studio on 28 rue Bréda in the neighborhood of the Petits-Porcherons, where a stable was next door. A keen worker, De Dreux ceaselessly explored the animal’s beauty, while seeking to communicate the bond between man and his steed. Here to give us a rare synthesis of the racing universe as he brings together the main actors in a single image. The jockey in his red cap and white riding pants is mounted on an English chestnut thoroughbred, the type which the painter preferred for its noble allure, distinguished presence, and fine coat revealing rippling muscles. Dilated nostrils signal the racy sporty animal’s ardor. The long neckline of this “cock-throttled” or swan-necked horse is crowned by a fine head with pointed ears. The legs are slender, hooves delicate, and the coat glossy. This thoroughbred, like the owner’s horse, sports three white stockings, perhaps a liberty taken by the painter to conform to the old adage, “balzanes trois, cheval de roi” (three white stockings, horse for kings). A stable boy with a horse blanket over his arm and wearing an elegant cream-colored habit holds the chestnut steed by the bridle. Beside it, in a light-colored suit and top hat which is a sign of his refinement, the owner lavishes advice. He is mounted on a small black seal-brown horse with a cropped tail.
The incisive brush emphasizes volumes and places direct lighting in perceptible brushstrokes. The anatomy of the horses is detailed and precise, while the riders’ physiognomies are left vague. In the foreground of a luminous English style landscape sketched with a light brush, the trio advances along a slight crest. The grayish blue sky whose clouds separate just above the horse displays the qualities of a landscape painter who was an equally brilliant watercolorist. A serene countryside punctuated by groves of woods is laid out in a cameo of ochre greens and grays. The riders’ shadows and mist on the horizon indicate early morning or the end of the day.
Bibliography of the Work
Marie-Christine RENAULD, L’univers d’Alfred De Dreux, suivi du catalogue raisonné, Paris, 2008, p. 91, no 396 (Jockey, propriétaire et le lad, Entraînement avec lad et propriétaire).
Marie-Christine RENAULD, Alfred De Dreux, le cheval, passion d’un dandy parisien, exh. cat., Paris, Mona-Bismarck Foundation, 1997.