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Thomas Woodward Unveiled: The Astonishing Encounter with Two Startled Horses


"In my usual world filled with art historical escapades, horses typically don't take center stage, until that enchanting encounter suddenly ignited my interest. In a forgotten corner of the art world, I stumbled upon a captivating panel. The painting vividly portrays two majestic horses entwined in a dramatic dance on a hill, amidst a raging thunderstorm. Lightning bolts strike, while both horses react in alarm to the impending chaos. One rears up with graceful strength, while the other feels its legs buckle under the pressure of the tumult.


The identity of the painter was unknown, an enigma that the seller had already attempted to unravel. Stalled in the investigation, he couldn't make a definitive attribution. Yet, the style and theme of the work spoke volumes: an homage to English Romanticism. My intuition compelled me to follow my instincts, to take a chance and attempt to identify the unknown master behind this painting. A swift agreement with the seller was reached, and within two days, I found myself on the train to Leeuwarden.


Thomas Woodward, Two horses in a thunderstorm,
Thomas Woodward (1801-1852), Two horses in a thunderstorm, approx. 1823, oil on panel, 23 x 30 cm (Bob Scholte Fine Art). Price on request.


























Yale Center for British Art


To pass the time during the hours-long train journey, I began searching for similar paintings in the hope of learning more about the artwork in question. I searched using various keywords directly or indirectly related to the artwork. First, I conducted a broad search, and then I narrowed it down, something like this: "horse paintings," "19th century English horse paintings," "painting scared horses," and "Two scared horses in a thunderstorm." After scrolling through approximately five to six hundred images, primarily paintings by George Stubbs (1724-1806) and Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863), I struck gold. The collection of the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, housed a painting titled Horses in a Thunderstorm by the English painter Thomas Woodward (1801-1852). This work depicted the same horses in a similar composition.


Thomas Woodward, Horses in a thunderstorm
Thomas Woodward (1801-1852), Horses in a thunderstorm, 1823, oil on panel, 30,5 x 35,6 cm (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven).


Thomas Woodward was a painter of historical genre pieces and portraits in which horses often took center stage. Beloved by the English nobility, he quickly gained recognition in high circles, allowing him to create equestrian portraits of the British royal family, including Queen Victoria her horses. During Woodward's lifetime, his works were frequently exhibited at the Royal Academy and the British Institution. His works are represented in institutions such as Tate Britain and the Worcester City Museum.


Horses in a Thunderstorm was part of the collection of philanthropist Paul Mellon (1907-1999), who had a fondness for English equestrian painters. Coming from a wealthy banking family, Mellon had the financial resources to pursue his passions after a short stint at Mellon Bank and military service. Mellon was successful as a horse breeder, writer, served on various museum boards, and was a prominent art collector. In the 1960s, he donated a significant portion of his art collection to the Yale Center for British Art, including Horses in a Thunderstorm. Although this painting is unsigned and undated, documentation indicates that it was created by Thomas Woodward in 1823. Stylistically, this artwork fully aligns with the artist's painted oeuvre.


Attribution


The resemblance between two paintings does not necessarily mean they were created by the same person, but in this case, it is indeed true. It is important to examine the hand of the master and analyze the paintings not only at a general level but also in detail. On both works, the dark skies are painted very thinly but in the same manner. The lightning bolts, subtly painted in the upper left corner, are strikingly similar and could almost go unnoticed. The horses have identical glimmers in their eyes, and the tufts of grass on the hill are finely rendered. Additionally, the support is the same, a thin wooden panel. The two paintings not only share compositional similarities but also exhibit striking resemblances in style and painting technique.


To verify the information, I reached out to the curator of the paintings department at the Yale Center for British Art. Museums rarely express opinions on the authenticity of artworks to avoid conflicts of interest. However, they cautiously shared with me their belief that the two paintings were created simultaneously in the same location. This confirmation was exactly what I wanted to hear. Currently, Horses in a Thunderstorm is not on display. When the museum schedules a horse-themed exhibition, there is a possibility that the painting will be loaned to New Haven, allowing the four horses to be reunited."

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