Classic sporting art is alive at the studio of the historic horse
Published Fall 2012
In artist Andrea Kent’s library, the scarlet walls speak of times gone by. A steel engraving depicts her kinsman, a Confederate cavalry general; a century-old hunting whip lies on her desk; a faded photo shows her cousin driving a team of Lipizzaner mares.
On the walls are what appear to be antique paintings. Slender-legged horses are shown racing, hunting, or performing the elegant dance of dressage. But rather than priceless works by Stubbs or Velasquez, these paintings are Kent’s own work.
Her studio, The Historic Horse, offers original equine portraits painted with the methods of centuries past. Kent sums up her passion simply: “I want to share the lovely things I’ve seen — the beauties of the countryside, the splendid horses and hounds, the remarkable people. Stubbs, Marshall, and Morier aren’t painting anymore, but their art still speaks to us. I’m trying to carry on in their tradition.”
With Hungarian hussars and Virginia cavalrymen in her ancestry, it was natural that she grew up in the saddle, riding to hounds. Some of her artwork reflects that background with scenes of foxhunting or racing.
In her late teens she discovered the beauty of dressage and was trained by a German dressage master. She now enjoys painting horses doing the complex movements of this ancient discipline. Daily practice in dressage gives her additional insight for her pictures.
Kent learned the centuries-old techniques of art from her father, a gifted European artist. He tutored her in the classical methods as if she were his apprentice. He then sent her to art school for formal instruction. Her parents also took her to see the great art of Europe and introduced her to European horsemen in her family.
A turning point came when the National Gallery of Art in Washington exhibited the works of George Stubbs, in honor of Paul Mellon. “Mr. Mellon was tremendously kind,” Kent reports. Inspired by his words, she went to the United Kingdom to study great sporting art there.
Today she paints landscapes, animals, and portraits in a modern realist style as well as in the manner of the past. She uses the same natural pigments, substrates, and mediums that great artists of past eras used and composes her paintings by precepts established during the Renaissance.
Kent donates part of her profit to horse rescues and historic preservation groups. She sees herself as part of a growing movement to remember old artistic and cultural traditions.
“Our ancestors knew something important: there is value — not just visual pleasure, but spiritual value — in what is beautiful and true,” she says. “Today we too need to see what is beautiful. In my work, I’m just trying to remind people of the beauties of our past, so that they aren’t forgotten.”
Andrea Kent: “I ride every day. My emphasis now is on rescuing off-the-track thoroughbreds. Many people don’t realize that racehorses who aren’t running well often get sent to slaughter. It’s so rewarding for me to teach a former racehorse to be a calm, reliable hunter or dressage horse, and give it a new career.”
Is most of your work commissions?
Most of my period-style work is done on spec; people buy it because it fits in with their decor, reminds them of a long-dead horse or hound, or brings back memories of some beloved countryside place in Europe, the UK, or America. They buy the dressage-oriented work sometimes because they want the inspiration of the very beautiful horses and riders of the past. The modern work tends toward commissions.
How would one go about commissioning you to memorialize a beloved horse?
Send me an email so we can set up a time for a phone consultation. In addition, my website has a pdf file one can download. It discusses things a client might think about before deciding what sort of painting to commission — what period to choose, the setting for the painting, the area it will be placed in, size, lighting, and many other considerations.
How do you work?
Much depends on whether I’m painting an animal or human who actually exists or existed, and, if alive, where he or she is located. In the mid-Atlantic area — Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware — it’s easy for me to drive out to take some photos. It’s also nice for me to be able to do some color studies on the spot and mix up the right forumulae for coat colors, vegetation, etc. There may be a need for additional photos and subsequent visits to check on details as the work progresses. If the subject is far away, I can fly out to visit. If I’m being asked to paint an animal or human who is no longer alive, I’ll just have to work from photos.
My initial pencil sketches are emailed as jpg files to the client for approval before the drawing is transferred to canvas or board. At each step of the process, as the painting proceeds, I email more photos. This means that the client is never surprised by the way the work is developing. Clients in the local area are also welcome to come to my studio to see the work in progress, by appointment.
Can you give any general guidelines of cost?
At this writing, the smaller pictures (16″ x 20″) that have been painted in advance, run $1,500-$1,800, depending on how complicated their subject is. Commissions start at $2,000 and go up from there depending upon size and complexity, with extra charges for traveling a long distance and for shipping.