The myth of the rider, of the man who derives his force and impetus from the beast that he dominates and drives, but by which he is also unsaddled, grew from year to year, brought worldwide celebrity to the sculptor, and resulted in repeated masterpieces. In some works the connection between horse and rider becomes almost symbiotic, as though the artist would melt the two bodies into one to represent Nessus, the mythical centaur.'
The horse and rider is Marino Marini's most important and enduring artistic theme, of which Cavaliere, 1951, is a particularly dramatic example. The polychrome plaster model belongs to the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh and another of the bronze casts can be found in the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In the years before and during the Second World War, Marini endowed his horses with a grace and poise that nodded to classical sculpture. In the 1950s, however, the subject was injected with an intensity and dynamism that reflected the post-war mood of anguish and instability. The present work is a wonderful example of the artist's transition towards a more expressive style. The horse is still steadily planted on the ground, but its tense, outstretched neck and head, and the precarious positioning and pose of the rider give the work a more perilous character. This is typical of Marini's mature works, where his horsemen become increasingly insecure in their mounts, flinging their arms out to break their fall, or slipping helplessly off the horse's back. Marini here reinterprets the classical subject of horse and rider, challenging the once triumphant vision of human mastery over a magnificent animal. In a dramatic reversal of roles - consistent with the mood of uncertainty that loomed over post-war Europe - the horse dominates and the rider is left vulnerable and out of control.
The present work captures a precise and critical moment in time, the moment when the fall of the rider becomes inevitable. The rider's fate is precarious: it is a depiction of man on the threshold between life and death. The fragility of human life became a dominant artistic theme in this post-war period of uncertainty, and the work of artists such as Francis Bacon and Alberto Giacometti was soon regarded as paradigmatic of the increasingly prevalent Existential theories and mood that was sweeping from Paris across Europe. The influence of Picasso's Guernica, 1937, cannot be underestimated as a visual source for the stark, jarring forms of Cavaliere. The dramatic jolt of the horse's body, its head and neck fully extended, nods to the pose and expression of the horse in the centre of Guernica, lost in the chaos of the scene. Picasso's masterpiece was much more overtly politically motivated, but nonetheless the two works share a remarkably similar atmosphere of drama and dynamism. The present work is characterised by an exceptional intensity of expression, and this is complemented by its beautifully varied hand-chiselled surface, a testament to the artist's almost painterly approach to finish.
Bronze, hand-chiselled by the artist
Venice, Centro di Cultura di Palazzo Grassi, Marino Marini. Sculture, pitture, disegni dal 1914 al 1977, 1983, p. 133, no. 76, illustrated
Height: 82cm. 32 1/4 in.
Emile Langui, Marino Marini, Amsterdam, 1954, illustration of another cast pl. 26
Eduard Trier, Marino Marini, Cologne, 1954, illustration of another cast pl. 43
Umbro Apollonio, Marino Marini. Sculptor, Milan, 1958, illustration of the coloured plaster pl. 105 (titled as Horse and Rider)
Heinz Fuchs, Marino Marini - Il Miracolo, Stuttgart, 1961, illustration of another cast pls. 10-11
Patrick Waldberg, Herbert Read & Gualtieri di San Lazzaro, Marino Marini, Complete Works, New York, 1970, no. 283, illustration of another cast p. 366 (titled as Rider)
Carlo Pirovano, Marino Marini, Scultore, Milan, 1972, no. 289, illustration of another cast n.p.
Marino Marini (exhibition catalogue), The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, 1978, no. 57, illustration of another cast p. 111 (titled as Horse and Rider)
Marco Meneguzzo, Marino Marini - Cavalli e cavalieri, Milan, 1997, no. 64a
Fondazione Marino Marini (ed.), Marino Marini. Catalogue Raisonné of the Sculptures, Milan, 1998, no. 351, illustration of another cast p. 248 (catalogued with height as 84.5cm.)
Galerie Gerald Cramer, Geneva
Estorick Collection, London (acquired from the above in 1957)
A gift from the above to the present owner