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Does a horse fly?

August 1, 2014
Muybridge race horse animatedThis was a much-debated question in the late 19th century – does a horse at a gallop ever have all four feet off the ground? Scientists were fascinated with the idea that horses “briefly flew.” Some said that was impossible – a horse would collapse if he didn’t have at least one leg in contact with the ground!
 
In 1878, Leland Stanford, a prominent horse breeder (he later founded Stanford University) staked his reputation on the flying horse theory and hired Eadweard Muybridge, a gifted and inventive photographer, to prove it.
 
Stanford invited the public and press to his farm to watch Muybridge’s attempt. On one side of the track Muybridge lined up 12 cameras. On the other side, Muybridge placed a white canvas, marked with vertical lines 21 inches apart. Wires placed across the track were hit by the horse’s legs to trip the shutters at 1/1000th of a second. All 12 shots were fired in less than 30 seconds. (At the time, people were accustomed to daguerreotypes, where subjects had to be motionless for several minutes while the copper plate was exposed.) 
 
Amazingly, Muybridge produced the pictures within a few minutes. Suddenly the world knew that horses did indeed fly, momentarily, as part of their normal gait. The story spread quickly world-wide, in both the popular press and the scientific journals.  
 
It was impossible to imagine the ripples that would come from this historic demonstration.

Muybridge had set the stage for the invention of the motion picture, which happened about 10 years later. Artists, meanwhile, quickly realized equine art was changed forever.
 Eadweard-Muybridge-galloping-Horse

Depicting horses at a full gallop had always been a challenge for artists, since the naked eye can’t discern the actual placement of the legs at any given time. In 1883, two years after Muybridge’s photos were taken, Edward Armitage of the Royal Academy in London, a prominent artist and teacher of the time, discussed the problem with his students.
 
Galloping horseIn a lecture to students, Armitage points out that for centuries, painters avoided attempts to represent a galloping horse. Instead they showed horses rearing, pawing the ground, or in various other positions.  â€œIt’s been known for a great many years the usual sporting way of representing a racer at full gallop is not correct.”   
 
One frustrated sports writer wrote in 1871 that artist representations of “the gallop in a perfectly correct manner is almost impossible; at all events it has never yet been accomplished.”
 
Armitage continues “It is now about two years since a very remarkable series of instantaneous photographs, representing a horse at full gallop, were brought over to England from America. The grotesque, absurd figures,”  when shown in succession “start into life, and the result is a wonderful representation of a race-horse at full speed. However grotesque the position of a horse’s legs may be, we must accept them as truthful.”
 

Horse running, pre-1878

Artists had been depicting horses legs extended front and back, but Armitage notes, “out of the series of 12 (pictures) there are only two which give the least idea of galloping, and in these two all the legs are tucked under the horse in a bunch.” He goes on to say the position of the horses in most of the images doesn’t convey a gallop at all.
 
He continues, although previous depictions of a horse’s gallop may have been scientifically wrong, “in art, whatever appears right, is right,” and although he can’t predict what impact these images will have on future artists, “the old fashioned way of representing a racer conveys to the mind a better idea of speed than any of these diagrams,” and artists should “continue to wallow in their ignorance.”

Brandon finishing the Muybridge muralMuybridge’s work and his impact on the representation of horses in art served as the inspiration for our latest public artwork in downtown Danville. This temporary mural will only be up for a few weeks, so please visit it on Main Street (near the Hub Coffee House and Cafe). Let us know what you think!

Gretchen Hines-Ward
Gretchen Hines-Ward
Education Director
gretchen@communityartscenter.net

 

 

 

 

Does a horse fly?

 

This was a much-debated and unanswered question in the late 19th century – does a horse at a gallop ever have all four feet off the ground? Scientists were fascinated with the idea that horses “briefly flew.” Some said that was impossible – a horse would collapse if he didn’t have at least one leg in contact with the ground!

 

In 1878, Leland Stanford, a prominent horse breeder (he later founded Stanford University) staked his reputation on the flying horse theory and hired Eadweard Muybridge, a gifted and inventive photographer, to prove it.

 

Stanford invited the public and press to his farm to watch Muybridge’s attempt. On one side of the track Muybridge lined up 12 cameras. On the other side, Muybridge placed a white canvas, marked with vertical lines 21 inches apart. Wires placed across the track were hit by the horse’s legs to trip the shutters at 1/1000th of a second. All 12 shots were fired in less than 30 seconds. (At the time, people were accustomed to daguerreotypes, where subjects had to be motionless for several minutes while the copper plate was exposed.)

 

Amazingly, Muybridge produced the pictures within a few minutes. Suddenly the world knew that horses did indeed fly, momentarily, as part of their normal gait. The story spread quickly world-wide, in both the popular press and the scientific journals. 

 

It was impossible to imagine the ripples that would come from

this historic demonstration. Muybridge had set the stage for the invention of the motion picture, which happened about 10 years later. Artists, meanwhile, quickly realized equine art was changed forever.

 

Depicting horses at a full gallop had always been a challenge for artists, since the naked eye can’t discern the actual placement of the legs at any given time. In 1883, two years after Muybridge’s photos were taken, Edward Armitage of the Royal Academy in London, a prominent artist and teacher of the time, discussed the problem with his students.

 

In a lecture to students, Armitage points out that for centuries, painters avoided attempts to represent a galloping horse. Instead they showed horses rearing, pawing the ground, or in various other positions.  “It’s been known for a great many years the usual sporting way of representing a racer at full gallop is not correct.”  

 

One frustrated sports writer wrote in 1871 that artist representations of “the gallop in a perfectly correct manner is almost impossible; at all events it has never yet been accomplished.”

 

Armitage continues “It is now about two years since a very remarkable series of instantaneous photographs, representing a horse at full gallop, were brought over to England from America. The grotesque, absurd figures,”  when shown in succession “start into life, and the result is a wonderful representation of a race-horse at full speed. However grotesque the position of a horse’s legs may be, we must accept them as truthful.”

 

Artists had been depicting horses legs extended front and back, but Armitage notes, “out of the series of 12 (pictures) there are only two which give the least idea of galloping, and in these two all the legs are tucked under the horse in a bunch.” He goes on to say the position of the horses in most of the images doesn’t convey a gallop at all.

 

He continues, although previous depictions of a horse’s gallop may have been scientifically wrong, “in art, whatever appears right, is right,” and although he can’t predict what impact these images will have on future artists, “the old fashioned way of representing a racer conveys to the mind a better idea of speed than any of these diagrams,” and artists should “continue to wallow in their ignorance.”