Off to the Races

This weekend marks the 146th Belmont Stakes and another chance at a Triple Crown winning horse.  To mark the occasion, Modern Graphic History Library looks at horse racing in illustration.

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race at Belmont Park, by Robert Weaver, New York Magazine, June 8, 1968

First stop … Belmont Park, the home of the Belmont Stakes.

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Belmont Park stables, by Robert Weaver, New York Magazine, June 8, 1968

In 1968, expressionistic artist Robert Weaver was sent to illustrate scenes of Belmont Park for a story New York Magazine was running on trainer Max Hirsch.  Hirsch had trained four winners of the Belmont Stakes : Vito (1928), Assault (1946), Middleground (1950), and High Gun (1954).

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Max Hirsch at Belmont Park, by Robert Weaver, New York Magazine, June 8, 1968

Weaver liked to draw and sketch from real-life situations and not use photographs as a basis for the sketches.  He also drew scenes the way he saw them, without altering the image to create an idealized version of the scene.

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Belmont Park stables, by Robert Weaver, New York Magazine, June 8, 1968

During the 1960s, illustrated visual journalism was being used more and more by magazines, especially for sporting events. Magazines chose to send illustrators out to capture the scene from a first-hand illustrated point of view, rather than send a photographer to take pictures.  Magazines such as New York Magazine, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated, saw the use of illustration for selected articles as a way to set themselves apart from other magazines which were using photography on a regular basis.

Next stop … Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby.

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1961 Kentucky Derby, by Tomi Ungerer, Sports Illustrated, May 7, 1962

In some cases, the illustrator would also contribute first-hand account commentary about the scene being illustrated. Tomi Ungerer was sent by Sports Illustrated to cover the 1961 Kentucky Derby.  His illustrations and thoughts about seeing his first Derby were featured the following year in Sports Illustrated.

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1961 Kentucky Derby, by Tomi Ungerer, Sports Illustrated, May 7, 1962

Born in France, Ungerer moved to New York in 1956.  By 1957, he was collaborating with publications including Sports Illustrated, Esquire, and The New York Times.

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1961 Kentucky Derby, by Tomi Ungerer, Sports Illustrated, May 7, 1962

Ungerer noted that the Derby reminded him of a New York Easter parade: “good taste, bad taste conglomerated into one wild unit.”  He also noted in his commentary, “I didn’t fall in love at first with the beauty of the horses as much as with the stunning mass of color, especially the crowds and the jockeys.”

Best of luck to the horses and jockeys.

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by Garrett Price, New Yorker, January 10, 1959

Credits

The Robert Weaver illustrations are from the Robert Weaver Collection.

All other illustrations are from the Walt Reed Illustration Archive.

Text of the Tomi Ungerer article can be found on the Sports Illustrated archive.

About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.