The President Ronald Reagan does not have to be separated from his favorite horse "El Alamein," even when one day he is no longer able to mount the fiery Arabian. The animal painter Jan Künster from Bonn, West Germany, immortalized this white horse for his retirement. The painting by the highly recognized artist will be the farewell present from the German American Congress (DANK) to the President. "This souvenir is in recognition for Reagan's strengthening of the German-American relations," says John Zavrel, the director for European Relations of the largest organization of the 52 million Americans of German descent.
When Reagan saw the sketches of the horse by the 36-year-old German painter, he was enchanted: "He is a great talent." His expression pays extraordinary attention to the horse's anatomy and its fiery spirit. Without doubt, Reagan is considered an expert in this field. His appreciation for horses dates back to his early Hollywood career in the roles of a young cowboy. Reagan recalls: "First I felt a little uneasy, but then I realized: horses can be very loyal friends."
The painter Jan Künster has a similar experience with horses. "Already as a schoolboy I adored these animals," he says. Today he not only rides horses, but also is considered to be the most significant painter of horses of the younger generation of artists in West Germany. His specialty is "special commissions" from horse experts and lovers, whose valuable and high-spirited horses he portrays in aquarell and oil paintings, with or without their owners.
Reagan's appreciation for horses became widely known when he once wanted to bring one as a present to the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. But the Chancellor's aides discreetly prevented this from happening. Although there would have been enough lawn for the horse around the Chancellor's mansion, there were no stables. Besides, a German Chancellor could not afford such a luxury, because the opposition in the Parliament would have new opportunities for criticism. Reagan does not have this kind of problem. People even have understanding for the fact that the same jellybeans that the President offers to prominent guests from all over the world, when they visit him in the White House, he also brings back to his Santa Barbara Ranch as a treat for his horses. And the horses eat the jellybeans from his hand.
Reagan received the Arabian in 1981 from the former Mexican President Jose Lopez Portillo y Pacheco as a personal gift. And now the horse has been trotting on the ranch for seven years. "It never threw the President off," say people close to Reagan.
The painter Jan Künster does not appreciate the early publicity about this state commission. He prefers to work in privacy. But the artist respects the American mentality of being more open-minded towards these kind of projects. Before "El Alamein" starts trotting over the canvas in oil, Künster makes many sketches, drawings, and motion studies. Each composition is exciting. The single drawings will be used as book illustrations or graphics, says Zavrel, who awarded the commission to the artist.
Reagan himself shows a great interest in symbolic gestures involving animals. This started officially under the Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who presented a pair of bald-headed eagles to Ronald Reagan during his visit to Germany. Furthermore, Kurt Arentz created specially for the White House two bronze eagles, named "Peace and "Liberty." Richard Burt, the Ambassador to Germany, made the presentation personally to his boss, Reagan, because Kohl's advisors "did not find any available space" in the Chancellor's suitcase. The presentation of the horse painting will be scheduled for this year. "But first I have to finish the painting," concludes the artist.