Celebrated Equine Artist Peter Williams Passes Away

Peter Williams | Peter Williams Retrospective: Paintings and People Dear to Me.

New Zealand-born artist Peter Williams, a familiar figure in the paddocks of the most famous racetracks in the world, died at the age of 84 at his home in Goshen, Kentucky Aug. 13 after a prolonged battle with the debilitating effects of Lyme disease and advancing dementia for several years.

Born March 22, 1934 at Ruatoria, a small east coast village on the North Island of New Zealand, Williams was brought up in the family business of raising livestock on expansive sheep stations near Gisbourne, NZ. An education at Hereworth School, Wanganui Collegiate School and Canterbury School of Art, fine-tuned his natural abilities and the encouragement he received made painting his passion.

As he began to win awards and land exhibitions in New Zealand and Australia, he was invited by Qantas Airlines to be a guest on their inaugural 747 flight to the United States in 1971. Ten years later, he returned to the U.S. and a chance encounter with Richard Stone Reeves led to a commission to paint racing scenes and the beginning of his career as an equine artist. He was widely considered to be the unofficial artist-in-residence at Churchill Downs, Keeneland and Saratoga.

Although best known for his equine-themed work, he was equally adept at painting landscapes, flowers, homes, vintage automobiles, cityscapes, nautical scenes and figural compositions, always from life and always executed in oil. He was commissioned by royalty, art collectors, and equine organizations around the world and was twice invited by HRH Queen Elizabeth II to paint the Sandringham Estate Carriage Trials.

Although Kentucky was his adopted home for more than 25 years, there was no mistaking Peter Williams' New Zealand origins and he chose to host a retrospective exhibit in his homeland in November of 2012 for the launch of his book Peter Williams Retrospective: Paintings and People Dear to Me. In all, he had dozens of one-man shows and exhibitions in New Zealand, England, Australia and the United States.

Williams was known for his love of life and sense of humor, as well as his penchant for friendship, which led him to connect with many people throughout his life. Despite being very well known as an artist, when introductions were made, he often quipped that he was an unemployed sheepherder from New Zealand.

He is survived by his loving best friend, Lee Anne Fahey; eldest son Harold (Janet) Williams; his son Tom (Linda) Williams; and daughter Belinda Pridham and her partner Pam. He is also survived by his six grandchildren: Jemma and Toby Williams, Olivia and Jerome Williams and Jesse and Tillie Pridham and many nieces and nephews all of whom reside in New Zealand.

A celebration of Williams's life will be held to coincide with an opening reception for his upcoming exhibition, “Peter Williams: Painted from Life,” at the Headley Whitney Museum in Lexington Sept. 7, 2018, from 6.30pm to 8.30pm.


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