The Cremellos of Versailles

Curious cremello Lusitano at the Académie Équestre, Versailles, November 2014.

Curious cremello Lusitano at the Académie Équestre, Versailles, November 2014.

Scraps of incomplete research I’m doing to trace the history of cream-coloured horses at Versailles and earlier French royal stables.

I knew the Hanoverian monarchs of England had cream-coloured carriage horses (the “Hanoverian creams” mentioned in W J Gordon’s Horse World of London in 1893), and that cream horses are mentioned by François Robichon de la Guérinière, who ran the French royal manège at the Tuileries from 1730 onwards (poetic list of horse colours compiled by Guérinière here). But were cremellos just one of many exotic and distinctive colours collected by the rulers of France? Or did they have more special significance?

From “Third Letter from Paris” by “Chasseur”, a correspondent of The Sporting Magazine in November 1830, a hundred years after Guérinière. In July 1830, the unpopular Bourbon King Charles X was overthrown and replaced by Louis-Phillippe, the first of the Orléanist kings, and a constitutional monarch. The aftermath of what was known as the July Revolution included some sort of fire sale of Charles’ hunting paraphenalia, from gaiters to otter hounds. And, of course, his horses:

I was not at the horse sale, but many good useful horses were given away almost. By useful ones I mean the carriage horses – bays, with short tails – English three-parts-bred ones. The hunters I never thought much of. By the way, an old cream-coloured horse with red eyes, in the Versailles stable, a favourite of Napoleon’s, I hear has again changed masters, though not passed into the hands of Royalty. I would have bought him had I been there, to prevent so distinguished an animal from being degraded by base servitude, as I fear he will be subjected to.

Where might the cream horse have come from? This Wikipedia page for the Celle State Stud in Lower Saxony, Germany, says that cream carriage horses, originally from Spain, were bred for ceremonial use at Herrenhausen. They are the source for the English Hanoverian creams, and apparently Napoleon pilfered several:

When he captured Hanover, he ransacked the stables of the Elector and found a number of beautiful cream colored horses. These he incontinently purloined and not long afterward these same Hanoverian steeds drew the splendid state coach in which Napoleon rode to be crowned as Emperor at Notre Dame.

Frank Leslie’s popular monthly 52: 42, “Historic Coaches, Old and New”. 1882.

This wonderfully researched page has some contemporary images of these creams and the trappings they wore at Napoleon’s coronation. Serious plumes. And a cheeky statement from this upstart from Corsica – he appropriated the very horses of true royalty for his own apotheosis. The scraps I’ve found here seem to hint that either the same horses were also used for riding (which seems unlikely) or both Napoleon and the British kings had creams to ride in addition to the carriage horses. James Ward called his famous painting of a cremello, “Adonis, the favourite charger of King George III,” and then, from Jill Hamilton’s Marengo, the Myth of Napleon’s Horse:

Tolstoy in War and Peace, wrote: ‘Napoleon was riding on his cream-coloured English horse, accompanied by his guards . . . Napoleon rode on, dreaming of Moscow.’

Read more of Chasseur’s John-Bullish thoughts on Frenchies and horses here. If you want to read an excellent book about Napoleon’s horses, Jill Hamilton’s Marengo, The Myth of Napoleon’s Horse, is now available as a Kindle e-book.

Peach Blossom, Trout and Tiger: Horse Colours in 1730s France

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Screengrab from Archive.org.

A list of horse coat colours taken from The School of Horsemanship by François Robichon de la Guérinière (first complete edition 1733. Translated by Tracey Boucher. Published by J A Allen, London, 1994):

light bay
chestnut bay
black-brown
golden bay
dapple bay
jet black
rusty black
dapple grey
iron grey
silver grey
tiger (grey with black spots and large solid black areas on white undercoat)
flea-bitten grey
pied (black, bay, chestnut)
light chestnut
dark chestnut
wine-coloured roan
moor’s head roan (blue roan)
rubican
mouse dun
wolf-coloured (with dorsal stripe)
all-flower or peach blossom
trout (a black undercoat and a body and head dotted with reddish or chestnut spots)
blue-grey (“a white undercoat and spots over the entire body, such as one sees on porcelain vases”)
isabella
palomino
cream

UPDATE 17/1/2017: I rediscovered my copy of The Wilton House Riding School, a reproduction of 55 paintings by Hapsburg riding master Baron Reis d’Eisenberg depicting haute-école movements. I can’t find a date for the completion of the paintings but in his introduction Dorian Williams says that the baron lived in the mid-eighteenth century. As I flipped through the pages I noticed that several of the colours mentioned by Guerinière appear, which might help to decipher the original French list.

There’s a German-bred horse described as a “porcelain piebald” which turns out to be a dapple grey (he’s called “Superb”). A Turkish horse is “silver trout” – what we would call flea-bitten grey. A leopard-spotted appaloosa is “tiger” (a confusion I’ve come across in some nineteenth-century descriptions of spotted horses). Our mysterious “mille fleurs” or all-flower looks rather like a blue roan with black freckles.

Want to Smell Like a Horse?

Wiki Commons: Jastrow (2007)

Thank  you to Slaminsky for pointing me towards these scents for the wealthy and horse crazy. Parfums de Marly present a range of equine-themed perfumes:

Godolphin: “opulent rose note, leading to a woody-leather scent base. Top notes: thyme, saffron, cypress, green notes, fruity notes and mate. Heart: rose, iris and jasmine. Base: leather, vetiver, cedar, musk, amber and vanilla.”

Pegasus: “a stimulating blend of bergamot and almond with a base of vanilla, sandalwood and amber.” (for men)

Darley: “notes of lavender and rose on an oriental base. Top notes: lemon, bergamot and mint. Heart: rose, orange blossom, lavender, rosemary and cinnamon. Base: sandalwood, guaiac wood, patchouli, amber and tonka.” (also for men)

Ispazon: “a woody oriental scent named after the native equine breed of the Netherlands, which is renowned for its grace and beauty.”

Lipizzan: “a spicy woody composition using the finest essences. With top notes of citron and cardamom, it has a heart of jasmine, rose and iris and base notes of amber, vanilla and musk.”

Shagya: “Top notes: lime, bergamot and red pepper. Heart: geranium and cedar oud. Base: vetiver, guaiac wood, papyrus, and musk.”

Herod: cinnamon and pepperwood, osmanthus, tobacco, vanilla, cedarwood, patchouli, musk and more.

Marly take their name from the Chateau de Marly in France, where they say that receptions were held to honour the horses of Louis XV and fragrances created to commemorate racing wins. The chateau no longer stands, but some of the superb sculptures by Guillaume Coustou that once decorated it have since been erected elsewhere. The image above is one, prancing outside the Louvre in Paris.

The Baker’s Horse Takes On Royalty

Today’s Times has a piece by Adam Sage on Saonois, a favourite for the 2012 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. It’s behind a pay wall here, for those with access. Saonois belongs to 34-year-old village baker, Pascal Treyve, who snapped him up for €8,000 when he was rejected by the industry as being “too small”. Saonois started out at provincial race courses but rose to win the Prix du Jockey Club, nicknamed the French Derby. Altogether he’s won seven races and €1,743,000 in prize money. Now the same big names who rejected him are beating a path to the bakery door, waving wads of money. Sage writes:

Mr Treyve, who has always lived in Bellegarde-en-Forez, grew up with a horse-mad father who took him to the races before he could walk. He thought about becoming a horse and cart-racing driver before opting for baking because “I put security first”. But in 2004 he saw a foal, Cadran, up for sale and bought a 50 per cent stake in it. “It was dream I’d had ever since I was a teenager,” he said. “And I fell in love with that foal. I only bought half because it was very expensive. I said to myself, ‘If it turns out to be a mistake, never mind’.”

Cadran ran in 54 races and won €140,400 in prize money. So when Jean-Pierre Gauvin, a friend and local trainer, suggested buying Saonois, he was able to stump up €4,000.

Elite flat racing tends to be short on fairy tale endings, but who wouldn’t love to see the baker beat the Aga Khan and Saudi royalty?

The Queens of the Circus

Thank you to French site Hyppoblog for passing on news that the Musée Vivant du Cheval in Chantilly is launching a new show to honour the equestriennes of the nineteenth century circus. These ladies performed haut école movements and bold tricks like leaping over dining tables and through hoops – all while side-saddle. They were a social sensation, respected and adored by the public. Called “Ecuyères” after the French term for these horsewomen, the spectacular will be performed from April to November. Must. Go. To Paris.

Who’s That Lady?

This lady has been Tumblring around the internet lately, and she’d crossed my path a couple of times before Riding Aside asked the obvious question: who is she?

And Marie answered in the comments. Selika Lazevski. She provided a link to a French government website which gave two images of Selika and stated that she’s an écuyère “of haute école” – might this mean that she’s one of the women I’ve blogged about previously who rode high-school dressage in French circuses in the nineteenth century (I was inspired by Hilda Nelson’s recent book)? Selika isn’t mentioned in this Xenophon Press title. Time to Google.

Very few hits other than the photoshoot (by Atelier Nadar in 1891). She’s not in Baron de Vaux’s history of horsemen and women in the circus. And that’s it… further investigation is required. I think I know where to look, although I’d have to be in the right library.

Sélika is the name of the heroine of Giacomo Meyerbeer’s 1865 opera, L’Africaine, and was adopted as a stage name by the first black woman to sing at the White House, the coloratura soprano Madame Marie Selika Williams. According to this site, the opera was hugely popular among African Americans, and Selika became a fashionable name. Popular among horse owners too: a filly called Selika won the Kentucky Oaks in 1894.

UPDATE: hello all Selika seekers! Earlier this year I used a couple of spare hours in the British Library to search old newspaper/magazine texts and indexes of circus performers, but sadly there was no sign of Selika. I’ll keep on hunting when I have time and resources.

FURTHER UPDATE: here’s a long Guardian piece on Félix Nadar, whose son Paul was probably Sélika’s actual photographer – a fascinating overview of both the man and of Paris in that era. No mention of Selika in the review, but if anyone can get a hold of a copy of the book, perhaps she gets a mention.

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ANOTHER UPDATE: 13/9/2016 still no sign of an equestrienne called Selika, but I have just learned about a Black British circus horseman/écuyer of the nineteenth century called Pablo Fanque – he even comes from my home town of Norwich. I’d love to write something about him when I have more time, but for now here’s a lovingly tended Wikipedia page.

OCTOBER 2016 UPDATE: A Livejournal post claims that The Equestrian filmmaker Sybil H Mair is making a film about Selika starring French actress Karidja Touré called The Adventures of Selika.