Although Breitner later made his reputation with scenes of Amsterdam city life, he began his career as a painter of military subjects. Between 1881 and the early 1890s, he regularly submitted such paintings for exhibition in the Netherlands and elsewhere. His military pieces were seen as challenging because the soldiers on their fiery steeds often seem to be charging straight at the viewer. This is also the case in this huge work, where the effect is intensified by the vast width of the canvas. This may be one of the first paintings ever to include an accurate depiction of the legs of galloping horses. Van Gogh saw the work when it was first painted and at first took it for a sunblind. He was astounded at its size and compared its appearance with that of mouldering wallpaper. As early as 1887 the depiction of the horses was discussed in relation to photography because they ‘leap out so wonderfully’ towards the viewer.
Source: R. Bergsma, P. Hefting (eds.), George Hendrik Breitner 1857-1923, Amsterdam 1994 and A. Venema, G.H. Breitner, 1857-1923, Bussum 1981.