By Lauren R. Giannini
Anita Baarns started out, to use her words, “doing very abstract works” and was even granted a U.S. patent in 1992 for her process of creating artworks by an application of crayon and ink. Obviously, her muse had other plans. While earning her bachelor of arts in studio fine arts at the University of Maryland, Anita accepted an invitation to ride to hounds on a horse borrowed from her hosts. The exhilarating experience engaged her senses, prompting a radical change in the course of her life and her art.
“I fell in love all over again with hounds and horses and that’s when I started painting hounds,” said Anita. Following her graduation in 1993, Anita and her husband, J.T. Martin, purchased a farm in the spectacularly scenic and historic countryside of the Piedmont Fox Hounds, established in 1840 in Upperville, Virginia.
Surrounded by inspiration, it didn’t take long for Anita’s artistic passions to manifest vibrantly on canvas and linen. Her paintings of hounds, horses and foxes were intimate images that captured more than a hint of the creature’s spirit.
In 1998, Anita won the Jean Bowman Award for “Best in Show” at the Sporting Art Exhibition, sponsored by the Museum of Hounds and Hunting North America at Morven Park (Virginia). “Well Done, Martha” measured 9 x 9 inches, but this painting told a big story: velvet-capped huntsman hunkered down, facing a fox hound, her face full of dignity, paw on his shoulder, eyes on the beholder.
To this day, the eyes are exceptional features in most of Anita’s animal portraits. “When I get a commission to paint someone’s beloved pet, whether it’s a horse, cat or dog, I want to capture the animal’s soul, and I always start my painting with the eyes of the subject,” said Anita. “When I get the eyes right, then I know I’ll have a likeness of the animal and that my customer will be happy.”
Several artists have influenced Anita, especially the late Jean Bowman, an internationally renowned American equine portrait painter, avid foxhunter, and co-founder of the American Academy of Equine Art. “I visited Jean’s studio and loved her paintings — she inspired me to paint commissions of horse portraits,” said Anita. “She volunteered to critique my drawings of horses, but unfortunately she died a few weeks later. I lost an inspiration there. I really loved her work.”
Anita continued, “I also studied George Stubbs’ work, especially the anatomy of the horse, and I loved the colors he used in his paintings. I actually copied a painting of George Stubbs’ ‘Mares and Foals’ for a client. It was my first commission. I studied Lionel Edwards’ drawings and I love the big skies in his paintings. His compositions are brilliant. I have a book about Lucy Kemp-Welch, a British artist who specialized in painting working horses. She illustrated the 1915 edition of ‘Black Beauty.’ Her compositions are inspiring, and I learned a lot about ‘lines’ by studying her drawings.”
Born in France, Anita was 5 when her Dutch parents returned to the Netherlands where she grew up. She began riding as a pre-teen, thanks to her father, who helped out a friend with a nearby horse farm by sending his daughters for riding lessons.
“We fell in love with the horses right away,” said Anita, who spent a fair amount of time in the saddle then and after she moved to the U.S. in 1988 where she pursued her college education. Foxhunting took Anita to Virginia where, inspired by living close to the heart of Virginia’s horse country, she established herself as a noteworthy sporting artist and portrait painter.
Anita’s work has appeared on many covers of the Chronicle of the Horse. She served as the official artist for the International Gold Cup steeplechase races, held at Great Meadow in The Plains, Virginia, in 1996, 1998–2000, and 2007. She was also honored as the 2000 and 2002 official artist for the Upperville Horse Show. Her paintings have been sold by Frost & Reed in New York City, and her portrait of the 2008 English Setter Champion, Stage Door Rock It Man, commissioned by the American Kennel Club, hangs at the AKC’s New York headquarters.
Although she gave up riding two years ago, citing that her horse got old and she didn’t want to start all over with a young horse at her age, Anita stays close to what she loves, thanks to her art. Her husband, J.T., didn’t ride to hounds, but he was an avid car-follower during her many seasons with Piedmont and also Fairfax Hunt. “So now I hunt a little white ball,” quipped Anita, referring to the fact that she and J.T. are avid golfers.
Anita doesn’t necessarily paint every day. “If I get up and it isn’t a good day for painting, I don’t worry,” she said. “Most of the time, I paint three or four hours, every day. But if it’s meant to be a day off, I won’t paint that day, because if it doesn’t flow, it won’t work. You can’t force a painting.”
Anita doesn’t draw or paint “plein air”; she works primarily from photographs in her studio on the farm, fulfilling commissions for oil paintings and pastel portraits of horses, hounds and dogs, with and without their people in the frame.
“I meet the animals when I take their photos,” she explained. “I pet them, talk to them, and spend time with them. I look in their eyes and I see the connection. I talk with their people. We go over the photos and select them together. When I begin the painting, I start with the animal’s eyes, because I want the animal to look at me while I finish the rest of the painting. I like the feeling that they’re watching me. When I do a posthumous portrait, people send photos to me. I like to study a variety of images, and I still try to look in their eyes. Even with a posthumous painting, it usually works out all right. I guess it’s a gift.”
For more information, visit www.anitabaarns.com.
About the writer: Lauren R. Giannini is an award-winning journalist and avid photographer, specializing in stories about the equestrian world, wildlife and conservation. Lauren lives in the heart of Horse Country Virginia, watched over by her CEO (canine executive officer), a rescue who sums up perfectly the term “hybrid vigor.” Lauren’s pleasures and pastimes include horses, travel, especially to Kenya, and writing about wildlife, conservation and eco-tourism. Books are next on her to-do list.
Photos courtesy of Anita Baarns