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Horse with Head Lowered

Edgar Degas (French, 1834–1917). Horse with Head Lowered, ca. 1885 (cast executed 1919–21). Bronze, edition 22/K; 7 5/8 x 10 3/4 x 3 1/8 inches (19.4 x 27.3 x 7.9 cm). Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Bequest of A. Conger Goodyear, 1966 (1966:9.23). 

Animal Sculpture

Featuring Three Sculptures of Horses

Conceptual Basis

Throughout history, artists have found inspiration in their fellow artists and past artistic styles and movements. While Edgar Degas, Louise Nevelson, and Marino Marini each have a unique artistic style and process, each has used the horse as a subject in their sculptures. Through the study and comparison of these artists and their sculptural works, this lesson plan examines different artist styles through the theme of animals. Students will create a sculpture of an animal inspired by the style of one of the artists studied in this lesson.

Featured Works

Edgar Degas 
(French, 1834–1917)
Horse with Head Lowered, 1880s
Bronze, cast executed between 1919 and 1921 from original wax
7 5/8 x 10 3/4 x 3 1/8 inches (19.4 x 27.3 x 7.9 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Bequest of A. Conger Goodyear, 1966

Edgar Degas's Horse with Head Lowered, 1880s

Marino Marini 
(Italian, 1901–1980)
Horse, 1945
8 x 10 x 3 inches (20.3 x 25.4 x 7.6 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Given in Memory of Northrup R. Knox by Friends and The Seymour H. Knox Foundation, Inc., 1999

Marino Marini's Horse, 1945
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome

Louise Nevelson 
(American, born Ukraine, 1899–1988)
Kneeling Horse, 1932–85
9 x 14 x 8 inches (22.9 x 35.6 x 20.3 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Gift of Diana MacKown, 1990

Louise Nevelson's Kneeling Horse, 1932–85
© Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Lesson Objectives

  • Become familiar with artists Edgar Degas, Louise Nevelson, and Marino Marini. 
  • Increase awareness of different artistic styles. 
  • Discover the similarities and differences between the three sculptures of horses. 
  • Support the understanding of basic art elements and principles.
  • Create an animal sculpture with a focus on different art styles and technique.


  • Tinfoil
  • Masking tape
  • Plaster wrap or papier-mâché
  • Foam or wooden bases (optional) 
  • Paint 
  • Paintbrushes

Background Information for Teachers

About the Artists and Art

Edgar Degas (1834–1917) was a French Impressionist artist. Classically trained at a young age, Degas is perhaps best known for his artwork depicting Parisian life of leisurely activities, including horseracing and theatrical ballets. Degas revered horses, considering them to be “legendary and powerful creatures.” Horse with Head Lowered is a wax study created by Degas in the 1880s. After his death, many of his wax studies were cast in bronze. This sculpture depicts a horse in motion, appearing mid-stride in a trot. Detailing of the ground below is featured under the horse. The texture of the bronze appears rough and bumpy as if the muscles of the horse are protruding. Visually proportionate to an actual horse, Degas captures the essence of this powerful creature.

Marino Marini (1901–1980) was an Italian sculptor whose work centered on several themes, including the horse-and-rider relationship of equestrians. The art depicting Marini’s themes evolved over time from formal sculptures to increasingly abstracted forms. Horse, 1945, depicts a horse standing attentive and still. The sculpture has smooth a texture as it stands on a short black base. Created with squat proportions, the legs and neck of the horse are short, while his head is also undersized.

Louise Nevelson (1899–1988) was born in Russia and emigrated with her family to the United States at a young age. Her desire to become an artist was present at a young age and, according to Nevelson, “From earliest childhood, I knew I was going to be an artist. I felt like an artist.” Nevelson moved to New York City and studied at the Art Students League of New York in the 1930s. Excelling in her studies and work, Nevelson had her first solo exhibition by 1941. Well known for her sculptural instillations using monochromatic wooden objects found around the city, Nevelson created her sculptures in different sizes using a variety of materials. Kneeling Horse, 1932–85, is a bronze sculpture of a semi-abstracted horse. In a kneeling pose, the horse is described as “semi-abstracted” due to the recognizable imagery of a horse with unnatural shapes and figments of the animal. The bronze has a smooth texture along the curvature of the abstracted horse body.

Vocabulary for Students

form: element of art—a three-dimensional figure

texture: physical feel or appearance of a touchable sensation on a surface area

equine: of, relating to, or characteristic of a horse

Discussion Exercise

Compare and Contrast

All three of the sculptures in this lesson can be discussed individually to highlight the artist and work, as well as together to compare and contrast the sculpting styles. Creating a chart such as a Venn diagram can help students comparing the similarities and differences of the artworks. 

It is helpful to discuss basic equine science with students before the artmaking activity begins. Showing an image of a real horse and discussing the parts of a horse can introduce students to the art they will view. Showing a video of a horse trotting or galloping is also beneficial, as some students may have no prior experience with horses. 

Begin the discussion exercise by showing students a picture of each sculpture individually. For each sculpture, ask students to identify the different parts of the horse (e.g., head, neck, legs, etc.). Ask them to identify what the horse is doing in each sculpture. Ask students to also identify the color, shapes, mood, shadows, and texture they see in each sculpture. 

Next, display all three images of the sculptures together. Have students create a three-sectioned Venn diagram with all three sections intersecting one another in a triangle form. Label each of the sections as one of the sculptures. In these sections, have students fill in elements of each sculpture that are unique and different than the others (e.g., Degas’s horse appears moving while Nevelson’s is kneeling and Marini’s is standing still). Where all three areas meet on the diagram, have students list similar aspects of each sculpture (e.g., all three works are horses made of bronze). Have students share their observations with one another. To wrap up this discussion and segue into the artmaking activity, ask students to share which sculpture style they like best and why.  

Artmaking Activity

Have students bring in images of animals as visuals for their sculptures. Creating a sketch of how they would like their sculpture to appear is a helpful way for students to brainstorm before artmaking. This process can also help students visualize the basic shapes and structure of the animal. Before students create their animal sculptures, have them focus on their chosen artist as inspiration. If they choose Degas’s work, their animal should appear real and possibly in motion. If they choose Nevelson’s work, students can make a semi-abstracted animal. For Marini, students might distort the portions of their animal. Remind students that artists can find inspiration in other artists or styles and use them to create their own artwork. 

Students will begin by creating the basic structure of their animal. Students will crumple up the tinfoil to create the body, limbs, and head for their sculpture. Scale can be determined by the teacher. Remind students that the tinfoil will be the base of their sculpture and bulk will be added with the plaster wrap or papier-mâché. Once students have created the parts of the animal, they will tape the pieces together using masking tape. Again, remind students that the plaster wrap or papier-mâché will help bind the pieces of the sculpture together. 

Once the basic structure of the animal has been created, students can begin adding plaster wrap or papier-mâché around the tinfoil animal. If using plaster wrap, one or two layers of the material will suffice. For papier-mâché, two to three layers will create a hard surface for the sculpture. 

When the surface of the plaster wrap or papier-mâché is hard and dry, students can begin painting their sculpture. Depending on the lesson goals, sculptures can be left monochromatic like the bronze horses studied in this lesson, or they can be painted in detail. 

Lesson Tips

  • This lesson can be tailored to focus on subject areas. Plaster wrap or papier-mâché can be used to create objects from science, historical figures, or architecture.  
  • For a cross-curriculum connection to Spanish or Latin American lessons, Oaxaca animal sculptures can be studied and created using the techniques above with the use of bright colors and elaborate designs. 
  • Sculptures can also be created with clay, if available.

Optional Reflections and Lesson Wrap-Up

  • Students can create a short story about their animal sculpture, giving the animal characteristics and personality. They can also create a poem based on their sculpture. 
  • For a playful activity, display student artwork and have the class try to guess which artist inspired each student’s work. This conclusion could be made into a game or a class discussion. Once the class guesses, let each student explain which artist they chose and how they constructed their sculpture based on their inspiration.

New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum Standards

  • New York State Learning Standards for the Arts: 1, 2, 3
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing: 2, 3
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening: 1, 2, 5
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language: 1, 2, 3
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Mathematical Practice: 1, 4, 6, 7

Teacher Example

Sculpture of a horse in mid-trot
Example of finished artwork based on lesson plan. Artwork by School Program Coordinator Kelly Macagnone.


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