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Raymond Duchamp-Villon began work on the plaster original of The Horse, a composite image of an animal and machine, in 1914, finishing it on leaves from military duty in the fall. It was preceded by numerous sketches and by several other versions initiated in 1913. The original conception did not include the machine and was relatively naturalistic, as is evident in the early states of the small Horse and Rider of 1914. Duchamp-Villon then developed an increasingly dynamic, smooth-surfaced, and geometric synthesis of horse and machine. The Peggy Guggenheim version is highly abstract and parts of the horse’s physiognomy are replaced by machine elements. Nonetheless, echoes of the original pose remain. As in the second state of Horse and Rider (Collection Judith Riklis, New York), the animal appears to be gathering its hooves, summoning strength to jump. Duchamp-Villon closely observed the dynamics of the movement of horses during his experience in the cavalry; he also studied the subject in the late nineteenth-century photographic experiments of Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne-Jules Marey.
With a handful of other sculptors, such as Alexander Archipenko, Umberto Boccioni, and Constantin Brancusi, Duchamp-Villon overturned conventional representation of form to suggest instead its inner forces. He associated these forces with the energy of the machine. The visual movement of the pistons, wheels, and shafts of this sculpture turns a creature of nature into a poised mechanical dynamo. The fusion of the horse, traditional symbol of power, and the machine that was replacing it reflects the emerging awareness of the new technological age.
The entire series was cast in bronze after the artist’s death.