Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Start of the Race of the Riderless Horses

Horace Vernet (French, Paris 1789–1863 Paris)
Oil on canvas
18 1/8 x 21 1/4 in. (46 x 54 cm)
Credit Line:
Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Bequest of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, 1887
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 801
Races of riderless horses were a highlight of Rome’s Carnival, held each February before Lent. Vernet’s painting depicts grooms struggling to restrain the horses before the start of the race—la mossa—in the Piazza del Popolo, which Goethe called "one of the finest sights that can be seen anywhere in the world." Vernet was certainly aware of his friend Gericault’s studies of the race when he made this one, which served a preparatory role for a larger composition acquired by the French Ambassador to Rome (now private collection).
Inscription: Signed (lower right): H. V.
Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, New York (until d. 1887)
Hartford, Conn. Wadsworth Atheneum. "The Romantic Circle: French Romantic Painting, Delacroix and his Contemporaries," October 15–November 30, 1952, no. 9 (as "Preparing for the Race").

Bristol, R.I. Bristol Art Museum. August 1–22, 1964, no catalogue?

Paris. Grand Palais. "De David à Delacroix: La peinture française de 1774 à 1830," November 16, 1974–February 3, 1975, no. 186.

Detroit Institute of Arts. "French Painting 1774–1830: The Age of Revolution," March 5–May 4, 1975, no. 186.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "French Painting 1774–1830: The Age of Revolution," June 12–September 7, 1975, no. 186.

Chapel Hill, N.C. William Hayes Ackland Memorial Art Center. "French Nineteenth-Century Oil Sketches: David to Degas," March 5–April 16, 1978, no. 61.

New York. Dahesh Museum of Art. "French Artists in Rome: Ingres to Degas, 1803–1873," September 3–November 2, 2003, unnumbered cat.

Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 2, XIX Century. New York, 1966, pp. 16–17, ill., locate this race along the Via Flaminia, now the Corso, in Rome; state that although this picture is a study for a larger version ("La Mossa," private collection), it has the appearance of a final composition; date the larger version March 1820 and note that in it, the grandstands extend on either side of the horses, the background is more extensive, and portraits of French artists in Rome are recognizable; compare the MMA picture to one of Gericault's studies for his painting of the same subject (Walters Art Museum, Baltimore).

Isabelle Julia in French Painting, 1774–1830: The Age of Revolution. Exh. cat., Grand Palais, Paris. Detroit, 1974, pp. 449, 650–52, no. 186, ill. p. 262 [French ed., "De David à Delacroix: La Peinture française de 1774 à 1830," Paris, 1974, pp. 445, 643–45, no. 186, pl. 167], calls it "Riderless Horse Race" and dates it about 1820; notes that Vernet witnessed the horse race during his first trip to Rome; compares this picture to the paintings on the same theme by Gericault (Musée du Louvre, Paris) and Carle Vernet (Musée Calvet, Avignon).

Charles McCorquodale. "From David to Delacroix." Art International 19 (June 15, 1975), ill. p. 27.

Theodore Reff. The Notebooks of Edgar Degas: A Catalogue of the Thirty-Eight Notebooks in the Bibliothèque Nationale and Other Collections. Oxford, 1976, vol. 1, p. 58 (notebook 8, p. 27), states that Degas made a partial copy of the finished painting, citing the MMA version as well.

Carol Phillips in French Nineteenth Century Oil Sketches: David to Degas. Exh. cat., William Hayes Ackland Memorial Art Center. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1978, pp. 126–27, no. 61, pl. 61, describes it as "an attempt to clarify the main motif of grooms and horses" for the final version (private collection); comments that it "has a unity and a sense of concentration lacking in most of Vernet's finished works which tend to break down into an endless series of detailed episodes".

Claire Constans in Horace Vernet (1789–1863). Exh. cat., Accademia di Francia a Roma. Rome, 1980, p. 45, under no. 14, ill. p. 24.

William R. Johnston. The Nineteenth Century Paintings in the Walters Art Gallery. Baltimore, 1982, pp. 40–41.

Important 19th Century European Paintings, Drawings and Watercolors. Sotheby's, New York. February 24, 1987, unpaginated, under no. 12, mention it in the entry for the final version.

Laura Hickman Neis. "Ultra-royalism and Romanticism: The Duc de Blacas's Patronage of Ingres, Delacroix, and Horace Vernet." PhD diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1987, pp. 185, 207–8, fig. 6, calls it "La Mossa" and states that this version may have been known to more American artists than French; notes, on the basis of lithographic versions of the final painting, that our sketch "preserves the color scheme".

Jean-Charles Gateau. "La Canaille. Orbite autour d'un 4 juin 1828 fictif." Recherches & travaux no. 46 (November 1994), pp. 65–67, ill., identifies this picture as the one referred to by Stendhal as "la course des chevaux barbes".

Important 19th Century European Paintings and Sculpture. Sotheby's, New York. October 23, 1997, unpaginated, under no. 48, discuss it under the entry for another oil study of the composition.

Olivier Bonfait and Antoinette Le Normand-Romain. French Artists in Rome: Ingres to Degas, 1803–1873. Ed. Roger Diederen. Exh. cat., Dahesh Museum of Art. New York, 2003, pp. 43, 64, ill. (color), date it about 1820 and call it a sketch for the larger version.

Bruno Chenique in Maestà di Roma, da Napoleone all'unita d'Italia: D'Ingres à Degas, les artistes français à Rome. Ed. Olivier Bonfait. Exh. cat., Villa Medici, Rome. [Milan], 2003, pp. 103–4 (fig. 9), 246, states that the inclusion of red phrygian caps is not necessarily intended to comport political meaning.

This is one of three known studies for a finished painting of 1820 (private collection; sold Sotheby's, New York, February 24, 1987, no. 12). It was apparently preceded by a study for the white horse (private collection; formerly with Trafalgar Galleries, London, in 1987) and another of the same horse with its groom and adjacent elements (private collection; sold Sotheby's, New York, October 23, 1997, no. 48). There are lithographs after the final composition by Peter Wagner, Jazet, and Küstner, as well as a miniature (Gaston Delestre, Paris).
Related Objects

The Tomb of Raphael, Opened September 14, 1833, Pantheon, Rome

Artist: Horace Vernet (French, Paris 1789–1863 Paris) Date: 1833 Medium: Lithograph on wove paper Accession: 1994.103 On view in:Not on view

Histoire de l'Empereur Napoleon

Artist: Illustrated by Horace Vernet (French, Paris 1789–1863 Paris) Date: 1839 Medium: Wood Engraving Accession: 1970.565.511 On view in:Not on view

Jean-Louis-André-Théodore Gericault (1791–1824)

Artist: Horace Vernet (French, Paris 1789–1863 Paris) Date: probably 1822 or 1823 Medium: Oil on canvas Accession: 1998.84 On view in:Gallery 801

Costume Parisien

Artist: Designed by Horace Vernet (French, Paris 1789–1863 Paris) Date: 1799–1831 Medium: plates: hand colored engraving Accession: 26.50.2-5 On view in:Not on view

Gatine. Incroyables et Merveilleuses

Artist: Written by Horace Vernet (French, Paris 1789–1863 Paris) Date: 1814 Medium: Books Accession: 24.8(1-3) On view in:Not on view