The Horse as a Symbol

Compilation of Images

Winslow Homer, Marion Post
The Winnipeg Art Gallery; Canadian Museum of Civilization, Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, Instito Nacional de Bellas Artes, Smithsonian American Art Museum

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved


The horse, the primary means of land transportation before steam and gasoline power, is often featured in landscape art. Portraits of thoroughbred race horses and depictions of fox hunting make the horse a symbol of wealth and high station, while images of work horses used for farming and basic travel convey the idea of physical power or common toil.

Examine the equestrian landscapes. Make a list of each of the clues the artists provide about the social position of the riders.

The horse, the primary means of land transportation before steam and gasoline power, is often featured in landscape art. Portraits of thoroughbred race horses and depictions of fox hunting make the horse a symbol of wealth and high station, while images of work horses used for farming and basic travel convey the idea of physical power or common toil.

Examine the equestrian landscapes. Make a list of each of the clues the artists provide about the social position of the riders.


© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

May-Day in the Country, from Harpers Weekly, April 30, 1859

This engraving was published in the April 30, 1859 issue of Harpers Weekly. It depicts a rural New England celebration of May Day, which takes place on May 1. These genteel young ladies partake in the English tradition of going-a-May-ing -meandering through the countryside to gather spring flowers. The Harpers Weekly article accompanying this image notes that the working class people in the cities celebrate May Day with heavy drinking and mayhem.

Winslow Homer (1836 - 1910)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Ray Austrian Collection, gift of Beatrice L. Austrian, Caryl A. Austrian and James A. Austrian
1859
UNITED STATES
wood engraving on paper
© Smithsonian American Art Museum


Couple carrying home groceries, kerosene on horseback. Kentucky Mountains

Marian Post Wolcott took this photograph of a rural couple on horseback in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. Wolcott spent more than three years shooting documentary photographs for the U.S. government's Farm Security Administration. This organization was created to aid farmers who had suffered during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression of the early 1930s. These photographs won support for President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal policies, which fuelled social reform in the 1930s.

Marion Post Wolcott (1910 - 1990)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Dr. John H. and Jann Arrington Wolcott
1940
UNITED STATES
silver print on paper
35.60 X 27.90 cm
© Smithsonian American Art Museum


1. Visual and material culture provide cues that sometimes devolve into stereotypes. Do the people depicted in these landscapes represent stereotypes? If so, describe them.
2. An example of a stereotype originating in visual and material culture is the "kind of person" who drives a certain type of vehicle. Think of at least two other contemporary examples.
3. How do the contemporary stereotypes you listed shape your own opinions?
1. Visual and material culture provide cues that sometimes devolve into stereotypes. Do the people depicted in these landscapes represent stereotypes? If so, describe them.
2. An example of a stereotype originating in visual and material culture is the "kind of person" who drives a certain type of vehicle. Think of at least two other contemporary examples.
3. How do the contemporary stereotypes you listed shape your own opinions?

© CHIN 2001. All Rights Reserved

Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Understand that an artist’s and a viewer’s perspective influence the interpretation of art
  • Recognize that the depiction of people in art is related to, and can contribute to, the development of stereotypes
  • Understand what a stereotype is, and define stereotypes in one’s own culture

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