This weekend I’m taking a trip back to the many centuries of painting before our roads were taken over by motor vehicles, and celebrating the far longer partnership between animals and people, who together went places and moved things a bit more slowly. In today’s article, I look at how carts, carriages and cabs moved people around; tomorrow, my main concern will be the movement of goods and materials.
Even the Duke and Duchess of Urbino had to be content with quite modest-looking carts, according to Piero della Francesca’s The Triumphs of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza from 1472. Being nobility, though, they do get to be drawn by unicorns, suggesting that Piero may not have painted this entirely faithfully. Battista Sforza, the Duchess of Urbino, is on the right, with the personifications of Charity, Faith, Modesty and Chastity.
In Alfred Wierusz-Kowalski’s Meeting the Train from around four centuries later, a couple of horse-drawn carts have gone to a rural railway station to meet a train. The winter snow still covers much of the ground, except where it has been turned into rutted mud on the road, hardly ideal travelling conditions.
Friedrich Eckenfelder’s White Horses with a Jolly Peasant Group in the Wagon shows a merry group of local landsfolk out for a drive in a hay wagon. It captures a happy moment during the interlude between the World Wars, in a Germany that was soon to be changed, first by politics and the rise of Hitler, then by war, and finally by the huge social and economic changes which followed.
In the cities were thousands of horse-drawn cabs plying their trade of moving the better-off through the muddy streets.
In 1875, Giuseppe De Nittis painted the city’s muddy and rutted streets in The Victoria Embankment, London. This wasn’t one of its older roads either: the Victoria Embankment wasn’t constructed until 1865, and had only opened to traffic five years before De Nittis painted it.
Jean Béraud’s undated Milliner on the Champs Elysées shows slightly better conditions in central Paris a little later in the century.
Camille Pissarro’s Boulevard Montmartre, Spring from 1897 shows even denser horse-drawn traffic in Paris, and is one of several series of paintings of the city’s human landscapes he made late in his career.
Painted sometime during the first decade of the twentieth century, Lesser Ury’s Berlin Street Scene with Horse-Drawn Cabs shows rather better conditions in Germany’s capital.
Horses and oxen also drew people off the edge of the map, beyond the comfort of familiar surroundings, into new worlds.
Albert Bierstadt travelled out in a covered wagon with the Surveyor’s Wagon in the Rockies (1859), which gives a good idea of travelling conditions when he was in the field with the survey team.
Thomas Baines had to endure more arduous conditions when exploring South Africa, as shown in his Wagon Crossing a Drift – Natal (1874).
Horses and oxen drew the emergency services, such as fire engines and ambulances.
Eugène Burnand’s painting of a rural horse-drawn Fire Engine from 1879 is a fine example. The pair riding the horses are whipping their team on at great speed, while the labourers riding on the cart appear almost unmoved as they stare at the fire in the distance.
Horse and cart were the means of making your final journey, as shown in Jakub Schikaneder’s Sad Way from 1886. A single rather weary horse tows the cart on which a coffin rests. The woman, a widow before her time, stares emptily at the rutted mud track, as a man walks beside them.