An Artist and A Gentleman

By Jacqueline Duke
Edward Troye embodied the 19th century's gentlemanly artist, enjoying the patronage of wealthy horse breeders and the hospitality of their homes. He painted the great horses of his day--Kentucky, Lexington, and Reel--while spending long periods in the Bluegrass state. Educated and urbane, Troye was the perfect guest.

Richard Stone Reeves was a 20th-century version of Troye. His talent opened doors to the best addresses while his congeniality guaranteed he'd be asked back. Reeves moved easily in this milieu, for he was rather pedigreed himself and appreciated good conversation and a fine setting.

Born in New York City in 1919, Reeves grew up on Long Island. His father, Matthew Sully Reeves, was a descendant of the celebrated American portrait painter Thomas Sully. Reeves' mother, Edna Simonson, was a Long Island native whose family owned and bred many well-known Standardbreds.

Early visits to Belmont Park inspired Reeves' love for horses and Thoroughbred racing: "From the time I was a schoolboy the first racehorses I heard and read about were Man o' War and Gallant Fox. Both were trained at Belmont Park...Gallant Fox was still in training when I began to follow the races like other schoolboys followed baseball and Babe Ruth."

With horses on his mind and painting in his blood, Reeves studied art at Syracuse University, then served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Reeves got his big break as an artist in 1947, when he was commissioned to paint Horse of the Year Armed. Life magazine reproduced the portrait, and six million readers were introduced to Richard Stone Reeves.

The artist's astute observations about the personalities and deportment of his subjects became a hallmark.

Of Citation, he wrote: "He had massive hindquarters and an almost perfect slope to his shoulders. His arched neck and finely chiseled head completed a picture that was unforgettable."

Of Kelso: "Never known for his beauty, Kelso was of medium size, no more than 16 hands at the most, and not heavily muscled."

Of Ruffian: "One look at Ruffian when she was only two gave me the impression that here was something out of the ordinary. There was fire in her eyes, and her beautiful proportions were hard to ignore."

According to Ed Bowen, who worked with Reeves on his last book: "Mr. Reeves had the keen eye of a horseman as well as that of an artist. His detailed notes illustrate his knack for merging the physical details of a horse with its innate personality, and the fact he saved those notes provided historical insights into the top horses of various eras."

Reeves painted more classic winners and champions than any artist in history. He chronicled the golden age of American racing and beyond, his oils giving flattering shape to Whirlaway and Citation in the 1940s, Bold Ruler in the '50s, Kelso in the '60s, Secretariat in the '70s, John Henry in the '80s, Cigar in the '90s, and Ghostzapper as recently as 2004.

Prominent owners eagerly collected his work. "The thing about Dick that you most remember is he was genuinely interested in people and in the horses he painted," said G. Watts Humphrey Jr. "He was a sincere man who had a love for the animal and for the sport."

Humphrey and his wife, Sally, first commissioned Reeves to paint Virtuous, the dam of 1980 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Genuine Risk. A friendship developed, and the artist often visited the Humphreys' Shawnee Farm near Harrodsburg, Ky.

Others welcomed him just as happily, including The Blood-Horse. Reeves first worked with us on Royal Blood: Fifty Years of Classic Thoroughbreds, published in 1994 and still the company's most successful book. We subsequently worked together on Crown Jewels of Thoroughbred Racing (1997) and Belmont Park: A Century of Champions (2005).

Always considerate, Reeves knew he was not well and did not want to inconvenience his Blood-Horse colleagues should he die before Belmont Park's publication. In advance, he signed and numbered plates for the limited edition of the book. Thankfully, though, he saw the book come off the press this past spring. He passed away Oct. 7.

Like those of his spiritual ancestor Edward Troye, Reeves' painterly qualities and gentlemanly demeanor were intertwined. They were his essence.