The Pharaoh’s Horses
The story of Pharaoh’s Horses begins with the puzzling existence of two nearly identical paintings. One version is by a well-known British painter, the other by an unknown artist. Which painting is older? Is it the version by the famous Brit? Or could it be the unsigned painting discovered at a Missouri flea market in the fall of 1987?
The widely circulated image, Pharaoh’s Horses, is based on an 1848 painting by British sporting and animal painter John Fredrick Herring Sr. As a young man, Herring was a stagecoach driver in northern England. By the time of his death, in 1865, he was a highly successful artist known to King George IV and later Queen Victoria. In the British art journal of the time, Pharaoh’s Horses was listed as one of Herring’s most popular images. The image found its way into many American and European homes by the late-1800s as a mezzotint engraving. His painting is a circular composition of three white, charging Arabian horses. This painting was thought to be the oldest rendition of Pharaoh’s Horses when it auctioned at Christie’s in London for $445,500 in 1986.
This image became a back piece and chest piece staple in the tattoo business from the turn of the twentieth century up to the 1950s. One of the earliest examples of Pharaoh’s Horses is from Gus Wagner found here.
By the 1920s, Pharaoh’s Horses were showing up in the tattoo supply catalogs along with other classic designs like Rock of Ages and The Last Supper. Images such as these came to tattooing from the larger religious art world. A customer may have brough these images into the shop, or a tattooist may have seen them and drew them up as tattoo designs. Much like the chicken and the egg, it’s hard to say which came first.
The design has been used countless times, being re-worked by thousands of talented artists, each adding their own style.
(Read more here and here)