02/25/2015 2:25PM

Hovdey: Shared Belief in shades of black

Del Mar Thoroughbred Club
Artist Dagmar Galleithner captured Shared Belief for this portrait, which will hang in the company of other Pacific Classic winners at Del Mar.

It was a simple portrait of Native Diver found in a book that lit the flame, a head shot of the dark brown gelding with the intense eyes, the greedy nostrils, and the mushroom-cloud blaze.

Though hard to put into words – in either her native German or her fluent English – Dagmar Galleithner somehow knew at the time that her budding ambition to enter the world of equine art would find its true expression in the medium favored by such masters as da Vinci, Degas, and Mary Cassatt. That image of Native Diver, rendered in the subtle vibrance of pastels, was how Galleithner saw the Thoroughbred.

Galleithner’s vision is gaining a growing audience these days, particularly through the marketing of her work in painting and drawing the denizens of Old Friends Equine in Lexington, Ky., where such aging stars as Gulch, Black Tie Affair, Afternoon Deelites, Commentator, and Marquetry have nothing better to do than strike a handsome pose for one last shot at immortality.

This week, Galleithner took a deep breath and delivered her most significant piece of commissioned work to date: the official Pacific Classic portrait of the 2014 winner, Shared Belief. Her work came to the attention of Del Mar president Joe Harper two summers ago.

“Her horses have a very classy look to them,” Harper said. “You feel like you’re looking at the real thing.”

The artist is happy with the results, and she should be. Galleithner has placed Shared Belief in his stall, posed in a traditional conformational posture. His head, with its small white star and leather halter, is turned to face the viewer. Light from the stall door casts a shadow on the bedding and back wall. To the left, heaped casually on the ground, is a black horse blanket with blue trim, representing the Jungle Racing stable colors of Shared Belief’s principal owner, Jim Rome.

“I had seen him run a few times,” Galleithner said recently at the home near Del Mar that she shares with her husband, jockey Joe Steiner. “Then when I met him and actually entered his stall, I realized what a powerful personality he has. He turned to look at me as if to say, ‘What are you doing here?’ ”

Shared Belief is by Candy Ride, whose Pacific Classic portrait was painted by Christine Picavet, but other than an obvious athleticism, he bears little resemblance to his sire. For starters, Shared Belief wears a dark brown coat that verges on black. And there’s not a lot of him, but what there is is choice.

“I thought it was a challenge,” Galleithner said. “A beautiful challenge. It’s easy to paint a picture-perfect horse. But to make a horse who does not at first give you that feeling, that is a challenge.

“At one point, I thought I needed some kind of super Del Mar background to make the painting pop,” she added. “Then when I started working on him, looking at different pictures, and did the sketch of his body, it was very impressive. He did the head turn when I looked at him in his stall. It seemed very typical of him, and it pulls the viewer into the picture.”

As for Shared Belief’s somber coloring, the artist was undaunted.

“It seems a limited palette, but it’s not,” Galleithner said. “You have the light and shadows just as much as in any chestnut. You just have to find the right colors without changing his color. Painting black is like painting snow – it’s not just white.”

Unlike oils or acrylics, pastels are nearly impossible to mix with precision, which is why so many are available.

“When I first started, I thought I needed the 525 Rembrandt pastels, every single one of them,” Galleithner said. “But then when you use such a variety of colors in your artwork, it becomes unstable, not harmonious. Over the years, I found that the more limited my color palette is, the better the results. I think I used about 15 to 20 colors for Shared Belief.”

Born in Bavaria and educated in both Germany and the U.S., where her father worked as an aviation engineer, Galleithner let her art lead her to horses in the mid-1990s. It was no surprise to learn that she derived much of her inspiration from the work of Richard Stone Reeves, America’s greatest Thoroughbred artist.

“You dive into their eyes, their ears, their nose hair – every single part of their body you paint,” she said. “I love the process, of how just one little pencil stroke, one little change of color or light can change the picture.”

In the end, Galleithner is no different from most artists. They hate to let their babies go.

“A painting is never finished, really,” she said. “When you are in the process, you never put it aside. You’re always involved, which is how I felt about Shared Belief. As it happened, though, I went to Germany for four weeks, and when I came back and looked at it, I felt I didn’t need to do anything else to it.”

At which point it was delivered to her patron, Joe Harper, who removed a painting from one of his Del Mar office walls to give Shared Belief a proper display. Galleithner had to smile. The gesture was not without meaning because the displaced painting, leaning temporarily against a credenza, was an oil of Native Diver in action.