I inherited a strange little picture from my grandmother of two horses frightened by a storm, perhaps, or running towards some lightening. I remember staring up at the horses’ pop eyes during nap time, and am terribly satisfied having it in my house. This terrible cell phone picture is of my dining room wall, horse picture included.
It never crossed my mind to find out more about it, even though I had never seen its like anywhere else. You can imagine my surprise when I saw it included in the gallery wall of interior designer Lauren Liess | Pure Style Home while flipping through a home decorating magazine. Liess’ style is much more polished and muted, but the horse picture has the same kind of punch, I think. It is an oddity: something banal enough to look past and yet odd enough to furrow the brow upon closer inspection.
After a little searching I found that it is called Spirited Horses by Henri LeRoy (1851- ) a still life painter in France (*05/11/2015 now in question, see link to continuing research below). LeRoy’s catalog, as far as I could find, revolved around prints of fruit and flowers with a few landscapes thrown in. All of his pictures have the same feel: a controlled and factual reproduction of the subject, but strange–like looking through a warped glass. They are just a little bit naive.
I wanted to find out more about Henri LeRoy, but have been unsuccessful. He, like several other Victorian chromolithograph artists, produced much in a new and flourishing world of consumer driven art. Many chromolithographs were known for their publishers over their artists. They found a champion in Harriet Beecher Stowe who lauded them as an asset to interior decoration (Rotskoff). Perhaps because of Stowe’s support, and perhaps because a new and thriving middle class had grown from industrialism, consumption of these prints soared between 1840-1900. They were so popular, as was using the technology for cards and advertisements, that the time period became known as the “chromo civilization” (according to Wikipedia). Like any pop-art, they were not made to last and the numbers of undamaged prints out there have dwindled over the years, which is probably why I’ve only just seen Henri LeRoy’s Spirited Horses on anyone else’s wall.
05/11/2015: A continuation of this research can be found in Chromolithography and the Mystery of Henri and Anita LeRoy
cited: Lori E. Rotskoff (1997) Decorating the Dining-Room: Still-Life Chromolithographs and Domestic Ideology in Nineteenth-Century America. Journal of American Studies, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Apr., 1997), pp. 19-42