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Equine Art: The Tradition of Realism Continues

Cynthia Hodges, J.D., LL.M., M.A.
Artist Bonnie Martin Hodges has developed her own unique asthetic of equine portraiture in the realist tradition by drawing on the influence of American portraitist Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), British equine artist George Stubbs (1724-1806) and French artist Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899). Realism, as an artistic movement, evolved from naturalism. Naturalism arose in France in the late 19th century and remained in favor until the early 20th century. The movement was inspired by the principles of the natural sciences, especially those of Charles Darwin. Realism portrays subjects in a frank, unsentimental way. Hodges' nonidealistic work contains the element of honest searching common to realism. The external characteristics are faithfully represented with emphasis on the internal personality, i.e. the life's experiences are visible in the face and eyes of the subject. Stubbs’ opinion that nature is superior to artifice is apparent in Hodges' paintings. As a student at the University of Kentucky, Hodges was deeply impressed when she saw Triple Crown winner, Citation, at Calumet Farms. She thus tries to convey the nobility of spirit in her pictures. Hodges would like the viewer to have the feeling that he or she can reach out and touch the subject's soft muzzle and stroke his sleek coat. She believes that the eye is the most important element, though, because it reflects the soul and is the key to the animal's personality. In order to capture the horse's essence first hand, she studies equine anatomy for structural detail because accuracy is crucial in her artwork. Both Eakins and Stubbs studied anatomy faithfully. Stubbs' The Anatomy of the Horse (1766) is an important reference work for naturalists and artists alike. Eakins studied live models and visited lectures in anatomy at the Jefferson Medical School, even participating in dissections. Following that example, Hodges took anatomy classes at the Baylor College of Medicine. In Hodges' opinion, the best mediums for animal portraits are oils and pastels, although gouache, pencil and water color are excellent for smaller paintings. Pastels allow for a more impressionistic feel to the picture, however. Hodges’ portraits mainly have discreet backgrounds, which cause the viewer to focus on the horse's visage. Jerry Goldstein, the owner of Post Oak Gallery in Houston, says this about her: "[Hodges] is an extremely versatile artist, which is unusual. She has the ability to be tight and expressive with a use of color value that is extremely good." Hodges feels that the overall impression of a work and the mood it inspires are the most important aspects. She says, "The end result is what is important in a painting and whether or not it is a pleasing composition." (Cooper 8a). Above all, Hodges' love of horses is the inspiration for her paintings of them.

Bonnie Hodges Equine Artist Email:

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“[Hodges] is an extremely versatile artist ... [with] the ability to be tight and expressive with a use of color value that is extremely good." ~ Jerry Goldstein

Hodges has a B.A. in Studio Art from the University of Maryland. She also worked as an illustrator for the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. A selection of Hodges' oeuvre, including landscapes, still lifes, and portraits, are currently on display in private collections in the US and Europe. Bonnie Hodges is now located in the Seattle-area. Please see her online portfolio at References Brittanica Online Bibliography Cooper, John. "Bellaire Artist Shows Work at Post Gallery." West University Sun. March 28, 1995 Heller, Nancy G. Women Artists: an Illustrated History. Abbeville Press Publishers. Italy, 1991. This article originally appeared in Contact: Central Dressage Society Newsletter. September 1999, and is available online at http:// Artwork Ⓒ Bonnie Hodges

About the Author Cynthia Hodges has a J.D. and an LL.M. in Environmental/Animal Law, and a B.A. and an M.A. in Germanic Studies. She has approximatley 20 years experience training and showing dressage. Hodges has had a number of articles published about dressage and animal law. She is also a published translator. Please visit her website,“Classical Dressage” at for articles about dressage.