While photographer Tony Leonard is celebrated for his masterful photography of generations of Thoroughbreds during racing's heyday, he quietly produced thousands of other works of art over his career.
Those photos, including fine art photography, portraits, celebrity candids and more, were never viewed by anyone other than his beloved wife, Adelle, and a select few close friends. After Leonard's death in 2012, a trio of friends and Leonard aficionados bought the rights to his collection, and were astounded at the undiscovered bounty. Leonard's cameras captured the iconic images of the horse champions, as well as the owners, trainers, jockeys and celebrities of the golden age of Thoroughbred racing.
“Tony produced an astonishing body of work over more than 50 years, and his talent for capturing the magical moments in Thoroughbred history remains unmatched. We felt personally compelled not only to preserve his collection, but also to share it,” said Bobby Shiflet, one of the collection partners who knew Tony for more than 20 years. “Tony set the standard for equine photography, but he also produced beautiful, inventive and exciting photos of the people and landscapes he loved. We can't wait for the exhibit to open so fans can see Tony's true skill as a master photographer.”
A selection of rarely seen photos and personal artifacts will be available for the public to experience firsthand at the “Tony Leonard Collection” exhibition, presented by Kentucky Bank, to be held at Lexington's Headley-Whitney Museum of Art from March 11 through June 19.
Leonard is best known for his stunning photos of America's legendary racehorses, including Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and Cigar. The entire collection spans Leonard's 50-year career and includes approximately a half-million photo negatives, plus prints, posters, commercial photography and more. The upcoming exhibition showcases approximately 200 photos that develop a comprehensive view of Leonard's artistry.
Kentucky Bank, which currently houses and protects the sprawling collection in one of its branch vaults, is proud to serve as presenting sponsor of the exhibit.
“Tony Leonard was a Kentucky treasure, and the photos he produced defined an era and captured the excitement, beauty and culture that surrounds the Thoroughbred industry,” said Louis Prichard, president and CEO of Kentucky Bank. “It is an honor for Kentucky Bank to participate in sharing with the public the celebration of this incredible body of work.”
While the collection will include some of Leonard's familiar themes – powerful Thoroughbreds and America's historic racetracks – art fans will be surprised and thrilled by his images of the world's cities, celebrities and landmarks. A catalog of some of Leonard's work, with opportunities to purchase some rare examples of his photos, is expected in the coming months.
“We are thrilled to be the first museum to showcase this amazing collection of work by such a great photographer,” said Amy Gundrum Greene, director and curator of the Headley-Whitney Museum of Art.
“There are so many horse racing fans and industry insiders who have framed Tony Leonard photos in their homes, and it's easy to keep him in that box, as the ‘horse photographer',” said Shiflet. “In a way, Tony was a victim of his own success – his brilliance in equine photography sort of blinded people to the fact that Tony was an extraordinary photographer, period.”
If you go:
The Tony Leonard Collection presented by Kentucky Bank
at the Headley-Whitney Museum of Art
March 11 – June 19
4435 Old Frankfort Pike
Lexington, KY 40510
Admission: adults $10, senior and students $8
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