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The Barbaro Documentary

It’s very well-done, but it’s not particularly easy to watch as there is a crushing inevitability about it — particularly in the segment leading up to the Preakness. It was nice to be reminded about some facts prior to Barbaro’s injury that seem to get lost in the months following (like the fact that his Derby had the fastest final quarter since Secretariat), but of course it’s easy to understand how the period following the Preakness tends to overshadow everything.

There was a nice shot of the lithograph of hounds from which Barbaro (and now Nicanor) got their names; I’ve seen the main portion (pictured) for sale in a few places, while the two end dogs (Calypso and Barbaro) are a little harder to find but are out there. You can see the main group here as ‘Meute de le Mr.le Comte de Barral. – Marcano, Séréno, Lentenor, Nicanor.’

There are some other single dog lithographs in the same style floating around here and there, as it was a very popular theme in 19th century popular art. Indeed, Barbaro (or anything vaguely classical, Biblical or otherwise literary*) was a not uncommon name for dogs of the period; the Philadelphia Museum or Art has a painting by Marie-Rosalie Bonheur called ‘Barbaro after the Hunt’ which is also a portrait of a dog named Barbaro. (For more on hound naming lore, check out Folklore on the American Land by Duncan Emrich).

As to the lithograph itself, the dogs in question appear to be something more like Basset hounds than English Foxhounds, but in the 19th century (and indeed in many places today) working hounds have often been more of a type than a breed, rather like lurchers, so uniformity is not to be expected.

While I’ve seen them labeled as everything from 1870-1900, at least one printing dates to 1894, according to this French copyright; however, the individual lithographs of Barabro (pictured) and Calypso do seem to date from around 1870. The original editions (attributed to Eugène Louis Pirodon here – I don’t know how solid that attribution is, I’m just an archaeologist/archivist/web developer, not an art historian! I do know that Pirodon was a lithographer working in that era, but not much more beyond that) probably predate the widely-produced commercial lithographs or there could have been any number of print runs.

As to the printers, Lemercier was one of the main commercial printers of the Art Nouveu period; he published many of the well-known Mucha prints of Sarah Bernhardt. For more on Lemercier, I would refer you to ‘Lithographic Printers Of The 19th Century’ [‘Les Imprimeurs Lithographes Au XIXE Siecle’] by J. Adhemar, in: Nouvelles De L’estampe (France), No. 24 (Nov-Dec 1975), P. 8-9. Others are listed as being published by Goupil, who was a wildly successful businessman. Either way, it indicates that the lithographs were produced for the mass market, so if anyone else wants a copy, they are out there somewhere.

But back to the documentary itself — the final shot of Barbaro’s new brother running in a field, with the subtitle ‘The 136th Kentucky Derby is May 1, 2010’ is a nice touch, even if the odds against it are astronomical, although it underlines the extent to which much of horse racing is built upon hope, luck and random chance.

*A great example, from Howards End (1910):

“This is Ahab, that’s Jezebel,” said Evie, who was one of those who name animals after the less successful characters of Old Testament history.

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