Sentient Jet + Sotheby’s Celebrate the Kentucky Derby & Equestrian Art

Launch Slideshow

With the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs just days away, we have mint juleps, dapper outfits, fabulous parties – and of course, thoroughbreds – on our minds. This year, the festivities will begin en route to Louisville aboard Derby Air, a bespoke travel service to and from the most stylish of American sporting events offered by Sentient Jet, the preferred aviation partner of the Kentucky Derby and a longtime supporter of horse racing. Of course, horses are one of the great artistic themes, inspiring painters and sculptors throughout history to create equestrian-themed works. Sotheby’s has had notable sales of such works from across categories. To celebrate the equine form and get into the Derby spirit, we have compiled a selection of memorable paintings, sculptures, jewellery and more that have raced through our salesrooms as well as three upcoming lots. Click ahead for more.

Derby Air powered by Sentient Jet offers cardholders and VIP guests a curated Derby experience, including a pre-race breakfast prepared by brand ambassador Bobby Flay, access to the exclusive Mansion clubhouse at Churchill Downs and views of the track from the Sentient Jet Jockey Club Suite. For details, please visit

Sentient Jet + Sotheby’s Celebrate the Kentucky Derby & Equestrian Art

  • John Frederick Herring, Sr. The Doncaster Gold Cup, 1825 (Lottery, Longwaist, Cedric and Figaro), 1827. Estimate $300,000–500,000.
    A devoted and skillful recorder of the history of the turf in the 19th century, John Frederick Herring, Sr painted this scene of the 1825 Doncaster Cup race, the most sought-after prize of its day. Central to the composition is Lottery, a celebrated English thoroughbred and the Cup’s winner that year, jockeyed by G. Nelson.


  • Sir Alfred James Munnings, P.R.A., R.W.S., Portrait of Mr. Bayard Tuckerman, Jr. (left) and Portrait of Mrs. Bayard Tuckerman, Jr. (right), 1924. Estimate $300,000–500,000 each.
    These portraits of Mr and Mrs Bayard Tuckerman, Jr of Massachusetts have been in the same family since they were commissioned from Alfred Munnings in 1924. Never before seen on the market, they will be offered in our 24 May European Art sale. Here each is depicted riding their respective thoroughbreds, Powder Puff and Desert Queen, presumably on a hunt at the Myopia Club. Bayard Tuckerman, a politician and celebrated jockey, was the first president of the famed Suffolk Downs race track in Boston and was inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame in 1973.

  • A Pair Of Magnificent Sancai-Glazed Pottery Horses, Tang Dynasty. Sold by Sotheby’s New York for $4,197,000.
    A rare pair of complementary Sancai-glazed horses, these imperious and muscular horses are distinguished by their rich and distinct colourings. The striking black horse, with a cream-coloured bald marking his muzzle, tilts his neck as his white mane falls in coiffed waves. The other, with hogged mane, is glazed a chestnut hue with the cream undertones of a Strawberry Roan, the rarest breed depicted in Tang Dynasty pottery. Both stand with nostrils flared and teeth revealed, wearing unique green saddles, and conveying elegance, grace and strength. 

  • Henry Stull, Leonatas, Winner of the 1883 Kentucky Derby, 1886. Estimate $60,000–90,000.
    Stull was lauded for his depictions of racehorses, such as this painting of the steed Leonatas and his jockey Billy Donahue, the winners of the ninth Run of the Roses. Donahue was so confident in his horse that he bet his life savings on the race. Following three days of rain, on the clear afternoon of 23 May 1883, the pair rode to victory.

  • Fernando Botero, Man On A Horse, 1999. Sold at Sotheby’s New York for $1,824,500.
    Since antiquity the equestrian image has been used as a symbol of heroism and political power. But Botero’s monumental Man on a Horse offers a sense familiarity, humor and tenderness between a man and his loyal horse. In Botero Sculpture , art historian Edward J. Sullivan writes that the artist’s “use of the figure of the horse is something akin to Cervantes’ use of the nag Rocinante in Don Quixote. Downtrodden and worn out, the horse is the constant companion of man in his journeys and travails…Botero’s equally affectionate evocations of all his various animals remind us that he thinks of these creatures as integral to his own personal universe.”

  • Franz Marc, Weidende Pferde III (Grazing Horses III), 1910. Sold by Sotheby’s London for £12,340,500 ($24,376,190).
    Celebrating harmony with nature, Franz Marc’s lyrical depictions of horses are his most significant compositions. The artist’s Weidende Pferde III was painted in the Bavarian countryside, where Marc moved in the spring of 1910. Four equestrian figures are rhythmically conveyed, grazing in a field. Channeling German Expressionist techniques, dabs of greens, yellows and blues create the sensation of swirling movement. 

  • Deborah Butterfield, Setsuko, 1994. Sold by Sotheby’s New York for $468,500.
    Butterfield creates the casts for her bronze sculptures from downed branches, which she carefully selects and assembles to form her highly individualized horses. Each branch is a dynamic line, which additively create the figure. Gestural and resembling three-dimensional drawings, Butterfield’s sculptures capture the sense of wonder and fascination with horses that has captivated her since childhood. 

  • Diamond and Emerald ‘Horse’ Bracelet, Cartier. Sold by Sotheby's Hong Kong for 812,500 HKD ($104,764).
    Equine forms have adorned fine jewellery since ancient times, dating as far back as the New Kingdom reign of Ramses II in Egypt circa the 13th century BC. This glittering Cartier bracelet continues the tradition with six pavé-set circular-cut diamond horses, embellished with emerald eyes, which wrap around the wrist as though running.  

  • Eadweard Muybridge, Sequential Motion Study, Horse And Rider, 1881. Sold at Sotheby’s New York for $15,000.
    In the late 19th century, Muybridge’s motion study photographs were radically influential to artists and scientists alike, capturing the nuances of locomotion imperceptible to the naked eye. In 1872, Muybridge was hired by Leland Stanford (the founder Stanford University) to prove through photography that there is a moment while a horse is running when all four legs are off the ground. This albumen print of a horse and rider is from Muybridge's The Attitude of Animals in Motion, a 203 plate series printed by the artist. Only two complete sets are known. 

  • Edgar Degas, Cheval se cabrant, conceived circa 1880s. Sold at Sotheby’s New York for $2,210,500.
    Cast from a wax model created in the 1880s, this lively bronze is considered among the most brilliant of Degas’s racehorse depictions. Full of dynamic energy, the front hooves are raised as the horse rears back. The textured surface of the bronze emulates the play of light and shadow on the horse’s body. Degas made over a dozen equestrian sculptures, in addition to numerous paintings and drawings of racehorses, jockeys and the surrounding festivities. This popular 19th-century sport allowed Degas to bring the age-old tradition of equestrian portraiture to modern life.

  • Theodore Gericault, Cheval de Napoleon, circa 1813. Sold by Sotheby’s New York for $1,968,000.
    Grand-scale history painter Theodore Géricault devoted much of his career to accurately portraying the demeanor and form of horses. According to tradition, the horse represented here belonged to Napoleon and was likely painted while the artist worked in the Imperial stables at Versailles. The success of Géricault’s equestrian paintings is rooted in his ability to capture the individuality of each animal. Unburdened by historical narrative, here Géricault conveys the simple majesty of this refined stallion, which had carried France’s revolutionary leader.

  • The Throne Verse (Ayat Al-Kursi) In The Form Of A Calligraphic Horse, India, Deccan, Bijapur, Circa 1600. Sold at Sotheby’s London for £2,057,250 GBP ($3,363,604).
    In this calligraphic treasure, one of the most popular verses of the Qur’an, the Throne Verse, is transcribed in elegant, looping gold lettering, placed cleverly within the figure of a prancing horse. The verse, which speaks of God’s infinite nature, begins at the horse’s head, wends through the body and culminates in the raised hoof.  It is rare for a calligraphic inscription to be portrayed as an animal form. In the exhibition catalogue for Calligraphy in the Arts of the Muslim World , scholar Anthony Welch suggests that the horse symbolises the all-knowing and unending nature of God, as described in the verse, while the diminutive rider represents the human soul.

  • Franklin Brook Voss, Jet Pilot, Winner of The 1947 Kentucky Derby , 1948. Sold by Sotheby’s New York for $12,000.
    At the 1947 Kentucky Derby, Jet Pilot, an American Thoroughbred racehorse, seized the lead from the gates and ran on to an impressive win. Owned by cosmetics tycoon Elizabeth Arden, Jet Pilot raced under the flag of her Maine Chance Farm stables. In this painting from the following year, the steed is presented nobly, standing at rest in a green pasture.

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