My Favourite Painting: Sam Waley-Cohen

'In a stride, 100 things are happening'

Jockey on a Galloping Horse, 1878, by Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904), private collection.

Sam Waley-Cohen says:
‘I love the way this series of photographs both captures the mechanical miracle of the galloping horse, as well as how, for a horse to gallop, the jockey and horse must merge to create one. It also captures, for me, the power and athleticism of the horse, in the simplest of terms. In a stride, 100 things are happening—when you’re on top you can feel this, but, here, you can see it.’

The amateur jockey Sam Waley-Cohen and Long Run will be defending their title in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.

John McEwen comments:
‘Muybridge was born and died at Kingston upon Thames, but what a false impression that gives of the extraordinary life of Edward James Muggeridge. The family was of Dutch descent, his father a grain and coal merchant. Edward emigrated to the USA at 25, changed his name to ‘Muybridge’ and later also preferred the old-English ‘Eadweard’. He started as a bookseller and agent for a London printer/publisher in booming San Francisco.

A stagecoach crash sent him home with severe head injuries, where he took up photography while convalescing. In 1867, he returned to America as a professional photographer and made his name with landscapes of the still wild west. In San Francisco, he pioneered the use of time-lapse photography to record the building of the San Francisco Mint. Leland Stanford, racehorse owner and former governor of California, commissioned Muybridge to solve the mystery of the position of a horse’s legs when galloping.

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Painters traditionally showed the legs at full stretch. The experiment was interrupted when Muybridge went on trial for shooting dead his wife’s lover. Stanford paid for his defence. Muybridge pleaded insanity caused by his old head injury, but was acquitted on grounds of ‘justifiable homicide’. In 1878, his time-lapse sequence of Stanford’s Thoroughbred Sallie Gardner, galloping with jockey up, proved the legs don’t stretch, but collect, as the front ones pull and the back ones push.’

This article was first published in Country Life, November 27, 2013