The present canvas was painted circa 1881, the same year that Toulouse-Lautrec, age seventeen, left his family home in Céleyran and arrived in Paris to embark on a career as a painter. He entered the atelier of René Princeteau, a successful painter of horses and hunting scenes who was friendly with Lautrec's father. The young Lautrec remained under Princeteau's tutelage until April 1882, when he joined the studio of Léon Bonnat, a portraitist and history painter. The horse had been Lautrec's favorite subject since his very earliest efforts at oil painting in 1878, and it remained so during his period of study with Princeteau. Equestrian themes were a natural choice for the young artist, whose father was a skilled horseman, hunter, and falconer, as well as an amateur painter. The present canvas depicts a horse tethered in a stable. The animal's chocolate-colored head stands out against the pale taupe wall, while his lighter body, rendered as a patchwork of blue shadows, contrasts with the rich brown of the open stall behind him. Princeteau was well known for his paintings of animals in silhouette, which may have inspired the present composition; in fact, one such canvas appears on an easel in the background of a portrait that Lautrec painted of Princeteau in 1881, which shows the older artist seated in his atelier (Dortu, no. P.131; Private collection). The vigorous freedom of the scumbled brushwork in the present painting may also reflect Princeteau's instruction. Anne Roquebert has written about Lautrec's work from this period, "He already possessed his characteristic manner of drawing: energetic, though sometimes lacking in respect for reality. With its vigorous brushwork, his painting--like Princeteau's--was both brilliant and informed. Princeteau's teaching bore fruit: from now on, indeed, the pupil was to surpass his teacher" (Toulouse-Lautrec, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1991, p. 66).
The first owner of the present painting was Gaston Bonnefoy, the son of a doctor from Bordeaux and a family friend of Lautrec. In 1891, Lautrec painted a portrait of Bonnefoy elegantly dressed in a black overcoat and bowler hat (Dortu, no. P.410; Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid), part of an important series of standing male portraits that the artist made over the course of his career. The paintings all depict well-to-do bourgeois men, frequently Lautrec's own friends, and exude the nonchalant, self-assured demeanor of the urban dandy. Richard Thomson has written, "In all these portraits Lautrec's friends read as individuals when one knows their names... and as types if not. Each one could stand for the boulevardier: masculine, prosperous, sexually independent, attuned to the modern world" (Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2005, p. 68).