The equestrian lifestyle and sport has long been a central part of France's history. Originally, horses were used to harvest France's rich soil, but because of their strength and agility, they quickly became military resources. During the 16th century, King Henry IV commissioned the creation of the Equestrian Academy, set in a peaceful town in the Loire valley known as Saumur. Saumur is situated southeast of Angers, an important religious site and home to some of the Loire's finest wines. Saumur, known for its unobtrusiveness and tranquility, seemed like the ideal setting for an academy whose focus was on grace. The academy was established in an effort to educate horseman on the fundamentals of French cavalry, or in the words of one of Saumur's most notable instructors General L'Honte, 'Calm, forward, straight and light.'
Pierre Gavarni was born in 1846 in Paris, France and his father was the artist Paul Gavarni. Under the tutelage of Eugène Fromentin, Gavarni developed a sophisticated hand and accurate eye, as well as a passion for art. He studied from Fromentin's explosive colors and energy and quickly became a master of his craft.
Currently, the Equestrian Academy in Saumur is a popular attraction for the Loire Valley (fig 1). One can sit in the historic arena and watch the Cadre Noir execute one of their technically flawless performances, or visit the cavalry museum just a few minutes walk away from the arena. The Cadre Noir is an international phenomenon as well, having performed in Japan and China.
The riders featured in this image, Le Cadre Noir à Paris devant la Tribune Presidentielle, represent the upper most echelon of the Equestrian Academy, as well as the entire global equestrian community. The riders received their name, Cadre Noir, due to their dark uniforms with simple gold embellishments. The Cadre Noir can still be seen wearing these exact uniforms today (fig. 2). The dark apparel was originally instituted to distinguish these elite riders from military horsemen, but are now synonymous with French equestrian excellence. Gavarni's painting was exhibited for the President of the Equestrian Academy, signifying the importance placed on this timeless French tradition. Throughout his career, Gavarni had multiple works admitted to the Salon and was invited to become a member of the Société des Artistes Français.
(fig. 2) The Equestrian Academy in Saumur.
(fig. 1) A modern-day member of the Cadre Noir.