Oil paints became popular among artists in the 15th century because they are versatile and their colours remain bright through many years of display and storage. Oil paintings are made by mixing powdered pigments with oil. Linseed oil is most commonly used. Oils may be used as they are, or may be thinned with the addition of more linseed oil or paint thinner. Among the countless subjects of oil paintings over the centuries are hundreds of famous paintings of horses.
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"The Stables and Two Famous Running Horses Belonging to His Grace, the Duke of Bolton" was painted by James Seymour in 1747. The painting depicts two horses with docked tails standing in their stables. They are wearing halters and blankets, and beside them is a foxhound which looks up at a boy holding a dish. Even if the viewer did not know the name of the painting, the rich appearance of the horses would be enough for them to know the horses belonged to nobility.
"Lady Godiva" is the subject of a famous story, as well as a famous painting by John Collier. Godiva, a noblewoman nearly 1,000 years ago, rode naked through the town her husband owned to convince him to stop charging the poor townspeople high taxes. This was after she begged him to be merciful, and he replied, "You will have to ride naked through Coventry before I will change my ways." He was so shaken by her actions that he did stop the high taxes. Collier's painting depicts Godiva perched on her horse's saddle, covered in part by her long hair.
George Stubbs began his famous painting "Horse Attacked by a Lion" in 1768 and finished it in 1772. Stubbs painted this at a point in his career when he had just begun to paint wildlife. The painting has an enormous amount of energy and motion. It shows a white horse that has turned its head and bared its teeth in an attempt to fight off a large lion that has jumped on its back and attacked it.
Rosa Bonheur painted a 10-1/2-by-25-inch study before she tackled the full scale 80-by-17-feet painting, "The Horse Fair." She began this colossal piece in 1853 and finished it two years later. The painting shows a group of horses of different breeds running through a show with riders on their backs. Many believe that Bonheur inserted a self-portrait in the painting, as she painted one of the riders as a female in a work smock.
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