This picture is one of the last Orientalist works to have been painted by the artist, whose dramatic death in 1860 following a duel over payment for a portrait of the Emperor Napoleon III ended an artistic career in its prime. Characterised by luminous colour, bold modelling and a bravura attention to detail, it can be regarded as a stunning example of de Dreux's passionate interest in Arabian horses and the exotic.
Painted in 1858, a year after de Dreux had been awarded the Légion d'Honneur, the present work is likely to depict a stallion belonging to Abd el Kadra, an Algerian Commander, whose stallion and groom the artist had already painted that year, appearing in the same saddle cloth and coat respectively. The inherent vigour of the stallion apparent in its gleaming musculature is deftly juxtaposed against the tender relationship shown between horse and master, with the groom looking down affectionately at his charge.
De Dreux was born in Paris in 1810, the son of the architect Pierre-Anne de Dreux. His interest in art was fostered from an early age by his uncle, the artist Dedreux-Dorcy, a close friend of the painter Géricault, whose choice of subjects, notably horses, were to have a lasting influence on the young artist. He too, favoured strong thoroughbred breeds as the subjects of his paintings, and had been fascinated by the exoticism of North Africa.
During the 1820s De Dreux studied under Léon Cogniet, and his equestrian portrait of The White Stallion, exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1831, revealed the strong influence of Stubbs on his work, recalling in particular Stubbs's Horse attacked by a Lion (1770). Only a year later, in 1832, he began to explore Arabian horses in his art, painting The Calif's Son and his Saik (Pushkin Museum, Moscow), and by 1838 had been commissioned for the horse portrait Randjiit-Sing-Baadour, King of Lahore and his Retinue, by the comte Jean-Baptiste Ventura, General-in-Chief to the Maharaja of the Punjab.
From the mid-1840s de Dreux travelled frequently to England where he particularly admired the work of Landseer. In 1848 he crossed the channel with his most influential patron, Louis-Philippe, the Duc d'Orléans. It is likely that de Dreux was brought to the attention of Queen Victoria through Louis-Philippe at this time, painting a portrait of the pair riding in Windsor Park. In turn, the Queen commissioned several works from the artist.