Written by Shayda Windle | Photographed by Jennifer Gray

When Anita Baarns came to the United States in 1988, she had her hopes set on becoming an artist. But little did she know where her path would lead — her shift from abstract painter to sporting artist wouldn’t become clear until later in life.

Baarns graduated from the University of Maryland with a BFA. It was there she learned to paint large abstract paintings. “Abstract art was the preferred subject by the docents, but I soon shifted to creating abstract paintings of horses because that’s what I was truly passionate about,” she says. She and her husband James bought a farm in Virginia horse country and Baarns became a member of Piedmont Fox Hounds. It was then she began honing in on her love of the fox hunt and the artistic beauty that comes with the adventures found in equestrian sports. 

Anita Baarns.

“My shift [from abstract art] came when I moved to Meadow View Farm and opened my small studio,” she says. “I started painting landscapes, but in my heart, I knew I wanted to paint horses and dogs.” After moving to the farm, a neighbor and a friend from Washington D.C. commissioned Baarns to create two different copies of George Stubbs’ paintings, which she says were the guiding forces “to becoming a sporting artist.” 

“When I met the Devans, who introduced me to foxhunting with the Piedmont Fox Hounds, I fell in love with the hounds and foxes,” she says. “It changed the course of my career as an artist. I wanted to paint the beautiful hounds and foxes and soon started selling my paintings. I also started to receive commissions for portraits of horses and dogs from my new friends in the community. Commissioned work became the main focus of my career. I love painting my patrons’ beloved animals.”

Top row: (From left to right) “Sydney,” 2020, pastel on gray paper, 7 x 6 inches. Private collection. “Zoey,” 2013, pastel on gray paper, 10 x 8 inches. Private collection. “George,” 2018, oil on linen, 10 x 8 inches. Private collection. Bottom: “Country Cousin,” 2014, oil on linen, 20 x 18 inches. Private collection.

Over the years, Baarns’ love of her new farm life and the animals she acquired became the center of her artistic world. She began documenting her experiences with an annual tradition of creating Christmas cards featuring her farm, her animals, and the hounds and foxes she adored. Each Christmas card is personal, recounting significant moments in her life. “I enjoy working with people who love their animals as much as I love mine,” she says. 

“Everyone Loves Bailey!” 2019, pencil on paper, 7 x 5 inches. Collection of the artist. 

The stories shared with her clients about their animals created personal bonds over the years. Encouraged by her husband to write a book about how her annual cards shaped her career as an artist, Baarns spent three years writing “The Country Life of An Artist,” a 200-page full-color coffee table book that includes stories about her art and Christmas cards, which are placed in chronological order throughout the book.

“My greatest achievement is publishing my book,” she says. “It is the pinnacle of my career as an artist. I also had to retrieve and photograph much of the artwork from my clients. It was so rewarding to see my older works of art again and learn from my patrons how they have treasured them over all those years.” 

Anita Baarns.

The stories throughout “The Country Life of An Artist” explain why Baarns’ early abstract style evolved into what it is today, as she continues to focus on realistic portraits of animals. Through the book, Baarns encourages readers to seize every opportunity, as each will always lead to another. 

“I hope this book will encourage aspiring artists to follow their dream; stay the course, never give up, and take every opportunity offered to you and use it to promote your art and yourself as an artist,” she says. ML

Purchase a copy of “The Country Life of an Artist” through Baarns’ publishing company, Dog Branch Publishing LLC, at dogbranchpublishing.com.