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Lucy KEMP-WELCH, Horses bathing in the sea, 1900, oil on canvas, 152.9 x 306.5 cm. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased, 1900, 93-2 © Estate of Lucy Kemp-Welch 

MELBOURNE.- From the mythical winged horse Pegasus to Phar Lap’s victorious Melbourne Cup, three thousand years of the horse in art is displayed in the NGV Collection exhibition The Horse, opening on 14 August. 

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, said, ‘The horse has been a constant source of inspiration to artists throughout the world and across millenia. This exhibition celebrates the role of the equine in the history, folklore and development of civilisation through diverse works drawn from every department within the NGV Collection, from a gilded Japanese riding saddle to a painting from Sidney Nolan’s iconic Ned Kelly series.’ 

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Odilon REDON, Pegasus (c. 1900-1905) (Pégase), pastel, distemper, charcoal and incising on paper on cardboard, 47.4 x 37.2 cm (sheet), Wildenstein 1994-1998, 969. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Felton Bequest, 1951, 2361-4

The exhibition will also present the long-believed missing 1930 Melbourne Cup won by Phar Lap, who became an object of national pride following his victory. This trophy is being especially lent to the NGV and it's displayed for the first time in an Australian art gallery, timing perfectly with Australia’s most spectacular racing event, the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival,’ said Mr Ellwood. 

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Henri de TOULOUSE-LAUTREC, The jockey 1899  (Le Jockey), colour lithograph, 51.5 x 36.3 cm (image and sheet), Delteil 279, ed. of 112. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1974, P1-1974

More than 250 works of art, including antiquities, major paintings, riding garments, saddles, sculptures, trophies and decorative arts from artists including Goya, Rembrandt, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, John Brack, Frederick McCubbin and Jenny Watson, are showcased.  

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MASTER OF THE POLYCRATIQUE (illuminator); MASTER OF THE CITÉ DES DAMES (illuminator); Gillequin GRESSIER (scribe), The History of Rome (c. 1399) (detail) (Histoire Romaine), black and red inks, tempera and gold leaf on parchment; modern binding, 44.0 x 32.5 cm (folio). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Felton Bequest, 1937, 411-4

The exhibition explores the role of the horse in myth, legend and miracle; the pomp and ceremony of pageantry; the equine’s role in conflict and warfare; the demands of pre-industrial transportation and labour; and more recent manifestations as an object of pleasure through sport and entertainment. 

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Dorothea LANGE, Spring ploughing in cauliflower fields, Guadalupe, California (1937); (c. 1975) {printed} gelatin silver photograph, 39.5 x 39.1 cm (image) 40.8 x 50.5 cm (sheet). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased, 1975, PH110-1975

Including a range of works from 1000 BC to the present day, The Horse begins by delving into ancient depictions of the animal in Greek, Chinese and Indian mythology. Horses were frequently depicted as loyal steeds of gods and goddesses, including the Greek sun god Helios who was told to drive a horse-drawn carriage across the sky each day. Images of centaurs, unicorns and the Hindu sun god Surya will be depicted alongside imagery of legends such as the equestrian Amazon women and the Trojan War, and sumptuous textiles and decorative arts from China and India. 

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George STUBBS, A lion attacking a horse (c. 1765) (detail), oil on canvas, 69.0 x 100.1 cm. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Felton Bequest, 1949, 2052-4

Equated with vitality and power, the horse was central to the expansion and maintenance of dynasties, including those of Egyptian pharaohs and European rulers. From scenes of knights jousting to the military victories of Louis XIV, the horse’s role in power and conflict will be explored through ancient Egyptian textiles, Renaissance bronzes, Albrecht Dürer prints and illuminated manuscripts, among other items. 

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INDIAN, Maharana Ari Singh hunting buffalo 1765, opaque watercolour and gold paint on paper, 22.8 x 31.3 cm (image) 26.2 x 34.8 cm (sheet). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Felton Bequest, 1980, AS191-1980

The Horse closely examines Australia’s relationship to the animal, which arrived in small numbers with the First Fleet in 1788. Horses quickly became symbols of the resilient Australian character, adapting to harsh conditions and playing a critical role in the viability and future of the colony. Artworks which show archetypal Australian imagery, such as the infamous mounted bushranger Ned Kelly, wild brumbies and the elite Light Horsemen of the First World War will be displayed. For Indigenous Australians, the horse was a puzzling import which came to represent oppression, and The Horse will reveal works by Indigenous artists, including Angelina Pwerl Ngal. 

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Jenny WATSON, Horse series No.8, grey with pink rug 1974, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 177.6 x 244.0 cm. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased, 1991, A28-1991 © Courtesy of the artist

The Horse also focuses on horseracing and the style and glamour of ‘fashions on the field’. On display are documentary photographs of major races, such as the Melbourne Cup and English Derby, as well as fashion and equestrian attire, including an elaborate nineteenth-century women’s carriage outfit, an iconic Akubra Drover hat, a 1948 Hermès Riding habit and a playful, jockey-inspired creation by Australian fashion designer Linda Jackson. 

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GREECE, Chalkis / ITALY; THE INSCRIPTIONS PAINTER (attributed to), Psykter amphora (Chalkidian black-figure ware) 540 BC , earthenware, (a-b) 60.2 x 37.1 x 34.9 cm (overall). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Felton Bequest, 1956, 1643.a-b-D4

The Horse is accompanied by a beautifully illustrated 96-page publication which provides a visual exploration of the equine’s remarkable presence in art, history and mythology. Available from the NGV design store for $29.95. 

The Horse is on display at NGV International from 14 August – 8 November 2015. Open 10am–5pm, closed Tuesdays. Free entry.

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Hugh RAMSAY, An equestrian portrait (1903), oil on canvas, (204.6 x 233.6 cm). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Gift of Dr B. Milne Sutherland, 1943, 1201-4

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Margit POGÁNY, The horsemen of the apocalypse 1942, oil on canvas, 58.7 x 80.0 cm. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Gift of Dr Iolanthe Gillert, 1970, EA1-1970 © Estate of Margit Pogany 

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HILL POTTERY COMPANY, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, Straffordshire (manufacturer); Samuel ALCOCK (designer), Vase (c. 1861-1867), porcelain, 25.3 x 18.3 cm diameter. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Gift of Mrs Saint, 1906, 607-D2

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Edward FISCHER, The Geelong Gold Cup 1879, 15 ct gold, (a-b) 35.2 x 17.0 x 10.4 cm (overall). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. The O'Loughlin Gift: a memorial to Martin Loughlin (1833-94), miner, sportsman and philanthropist. Gift of three of his great-nieces, 1994. D41.a-b-1994