Dawn Raid

by Brett Lohn

Brett freely admits to being hypnotised by the beauty of thoroughbreds in motion. The results of this infatuation are clear in this interpretation of the effortless grace that these animals exude, as they cover the ground at speed.

Dawn Raid focuses on two racehorses that are completing their work shortly after sunrise on Newmarket’s Summer Canter. In the background we see the grandstand being woken abruptly by the sun’s embrace, as it is shaken from its blue-lit slumber by a bright orange glow. Every muscle on the lead horse’s neck and body is picked out by the low, rising sunlight. His companion creates an equally dramatic silhouette on the landscape.

Brett says:

I spent a large amount of preparation time up at Newmarket, watching the horses work, before I settled upon the composition for this painting. I used to leave home shortly after 3am in order to be in position in the hedges that separate the gallops from the main road. I had to do a lot of watching before I could start sketching. In the end I found that the very early morning light, when all but the most enthusiastic dog walker (and unwise artist) are still in bed, lent an exaggerated calm to the still, dew filled hush of the early morning gallops.

By painting the grandstand as I have, I sought to recreate that dawn atmosphere where all is totally silent. The deserted building, hidden beneath muted blue tones, echoes the sleeping landscape. We see the sun begin to scale one side of the building, a bright but distant indicator of the heat that will be brought to pass later in the day. In a similar fashion, moments before this canvas is painted, we hear the distant thunder of hooves rapidly approach, preceding the snorting muscular charge of the horses that now pass by.

Early morning summer light gives a unique warmth and tone to a horse’s coat. This is something that I found a real pleasure to paint in ‘Dawn Raid’ as I feel that it reveals the thoroughbred in his full majesty. By positioning the two horses so that they have just passed the viewer, I have been able to show their faces in what I believe to be a particularly noble and graceful profile, adding to their overall majesty.

Both jockeys are dressed in subdued tones that bear similarity to the racecourse buildings. This helps to isolate the two horses and therefore throw them into relief, giving them dominance over the rest of the canvas. This dominance is balanced to the right of the painting; by the same sunlight that makes the horses seem so prominent and gives this piece of equestrian art such understated drama.