From Picasso's Dora Maar to Andy Warhol's Edie Sedgwick, muses inspire great artists
But muses aren't always beautiful women -- sometimes they're a horse
Champion thoroughbred Frankel inspires poem and painting ahead of last race
Arguably world's greatest race horse secured 14th win at Ascot's Champions Stakes
Throughout history, the greatest artists have relied on their muses to inspire, enchant and satisfy them.
Pablo Picasso immortalized mistress Dora Maar in his 1937 painting Weeping Woman, Andy Warhol catapulted model Edie Sedgwick to “It Girl” status in his 1960s avant-garde films, while Leonardo da Vinci made the woman behind his “Mona Lisa” perhaps the most famous muse of all time.
But the elusive figure of the muse doesn’t always have to be that of a beautiful woman.
The dark beauty with flowing locks and sinewy limbs depicted in artist Michael Kirkbride’s latest painting isn’t a luscious lady – it’s a horse.
Not just any horse, but arguably the greatest race horse of all time.
Since demolishing the field in his first major win at the Royal Lodge Stakes in 2010, an air of mystique has followed world champion thoroughbred Frankel.
The superstar colt, who even has its own twitter handle, has not just won all 14 of his races – he has won them by staggering margins, destroying world-class fields,becoming by a distance the top-rated race horse on the planet.
In his last race, the thoroughbred won the Champion Stakes at Ascot, with a sell-out crowd of 32,000 catching a final glimpse of the now-celebrity horse as as he powered to a dramatic victory.
Writer Blaine Ward’s personal “Frankel moment” came earlier in the horse’s stellar career, an experience which later paved the way for artist Kirkbride to paint his unusual surrealist work.
“I had been watching last year’s 2000 Guineas race on TV when Frankel just pounded the other horses into the ground,” said Ward.
“He easily won by a good six lengths – none of the others even came close.
“In my mind’s eye I saw Frankel smashing through the screen into my living room; this powerful, beautiful, almost mythical beast.”
A 51-year-old former solicitor from Sunderland in north-east England, Blaine was so moved by Frankel’s win he wrote a poem about the centaur-like creature bursting into his suburban home in a blaze of glory. It read in part:
“Then a smell of burnt air mixed with horse-flesh
when the telly exploded in his face
as the Frankel centaur burst in
green and pink silk, fluid powerful grace.”
It was a special sporting moment and had a profound effect on Ward, who described Frankel’s win as akin to watching boxer Muhammad Ali or footballer Lionel Messi in action.
“It was one of those rare times when you get a sense you’ve just witnessed somebody or something at the very pinnacle of sporting prowess,” he said.
“Mere words are never good enough to do it justice.”
And so Ward enlisted Kirkbride, a lecturer at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London (RADA) to paint the champion horse powering into a suburban living room, knocking Ward and his wife from their chairs and spilling their afternoon gin and tonics to the floor.
“The result is a surreal cocktail of his words and my interpretation in art form,” Kirkbride said.
“The modern domestic scene is shattered by the magisterial beast that is Frankel.”
Kirkbride painted the work, called “Armchair Ride,” in egg tempura; a mixture of colored pigment and egg yolk which dates back to the 1st Century.
The method, which gives a luminous quality, was later superseded by oil painting around the 15th Century.
“It has a kind of stained glass quality to it, like shining a light from behind,” said Kirkbride. “The pinks and blues of Frankel’s silks are quite strong and I thought they really lent themselves to the medium.”
Kirkbride is perhaps best known for his paintings of English football scenes, such as “Chech Mates,” which captures the unusual tradition of Chelsea fans throwing celery, or “Bar Kick,” which portrays sporting revelry in a pub.
After Saturday though, and Kirkbride will be painting fabulous Frankel smashing not just a TV screen, but the record books all over again.