richard stone reeves
Richard Stone Reeves, described by The New York Times as one of the premier equine artists in the world, was born in New York City on November 6, 1919. His father, Matthew Sully Reeves, was a descendant of the 19th century American portraitist Thomas Sully, and his mother, the former Edna Simonson, bred and owned Standardbreds. Reeves grew up in Garden City, Long Island, close to Belmont Park and the Mineola Fairgrounds, where he indulged his passion for horses and art by spending time sketching Standardbreds. It was at the Fairgrounds that he met Hall of Fame Immortal Harry Pownall, Sr., who later became Arden Homestead Stables’ trainer/driver. Pownall became Reeves’ first patron when, in 1934, he paid $10 for a watercolor painting of the trotting mare Hanover Maid.
In September of 1937, Reeves enrolled in the College of Fine Arts at Syracuse University and in June of 1941 graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He worked in the commercial art field until the outbreak of World War II. He then joined the navy and was commissioned as an ensign in March of 1942. During the next four years he circumnavigated the world and spent 1944 and 1945 in China where, between missions, he painted subjects such as local peasants and temples. It was during this period, while on duty as a naval intelligence officer (lieutenant) with the Fourteenth Air Force, that he met the president of Roosevelt Raceway, Robert G. Johnson, who was also with naval intelligence. They spent many hours discussing horses and racetracks and agreed to look each other up after the war.
Upon his return to the States, Reeves contacted Johnson, and in the spring of 1946 he met with Roosevelt Raceway’s board of directors. Impressed with Reeves’ skill, the board commissioned him to paint the portraits of the season’s top trotters and pacers. The completed works were to be hung in the track’s clubhouse. His first oil painting of a harness horse, Dr. Spencer with Harry Fitzpatrick in the sulky, was the result of this project. Following his exposure at Roosevelt, Reeves’ fame spread rapidly throughout the Standardbred and Thoroughbred industries. After his portrait of Armed, Thoroughbred racing’s 1947 Horse of the Year, appeared in Life magazine, Reeves began to receive many commissions from prominent horsemen and art collectors. Among them were the Aga Khan, R. L. Craig, Elbridge T. Gerry, Sr., E. Roland Harriman, W. Averell Harriman, Harry Guggenheim, Stanley Dancer, Delvin Miller, Paul Mellon and Allaire du Pont. In 1982 President Ronald Reagan presented Queen Elizabeth II with a special edition Decade of Champions, Reeves’ book of portraits. Reeves’ star subjects included the Standardbreds Titan Hanover, Meadow Skipper, Nevele Pride, Adios, Speedy Somolli and Cardigan Bay and the Thoroughbreds Nijinksy II, Northern Dancer, and all eleven Thoroughbred Triple Crown winners.
Reeves added a lifelike dimension to otherwise two-dimensional canvases by placing equal emphasis on his subjects’ physical attributes and psychological characteristics. Not afraid to leave his studio, he regularly traveled to tracks and training facilities to study his four-legged subjects and talk to their owners, trainers and drivers in order to better understand the nature of each horse. His portraits were anatomically correct, down to the smallest detail. Reeves considered the horse’s head to be the key to his paintings as it was an indicator of spirit and personality. In addition to a standing pose, he observed his subjects in motion to gain information about the strength and weakness of the hooves and legs. During his personal viewing he would take notes and photos, make sketches and obtain a color swatch which would exactly match the horse’s coat. He would then return to work in his studio, a converted barn in Oldwick, New Jersey. Many of his paintings were of horses either trotting, pacing or galloping. He paid careful attention to the characteristics of the drivers, jockeys, trainers, grooms and owners who were frequently included in the final product, either an oil on canvas or an oil on panel. Reeves’ style has been described as neo-Romantic. His backgrounds were often pastoral settings, but he sometimes chose the horse’s stall, a paddock, a racetrack or simply a blank canvas covered with a carefully chosen color. The Newmarket Gallery in New York City praised Reeves by saying, “His meticulous close-work with the color, the attitudes, and the overall feeling of light and presence, place him in an entirely different class from all other contemporary horse painters.” In summing up his years at the easel Reeves reflected, “My painting career started with trotters. They’ve been good to me.”
Richard Stone Reeves passed away on October 7, 2005 in Greenport, New York, at the age of eighty-five. He is survived by his wife, the former Martha Seymour, daughter Nina Stone Reeves and son Tony and Linda Stone Reeves.