In the first article of this pair looking at a small selection of paintings of horses and oxen drawing carts, I concentrated on human loads. Carts and wagons of various types also moved all manner of cargos, which is today’s theme.
I start with a couple of humorous cargos, in both cases Cervantes’ fictional knight errant Don Quixote.
When his village priest finally rescues Don Quixote from his wild fantasy adventures, he has to be confined in a cage on an ox-cart, as shown in Ricardo Balaca’s fine painting for an illustrated edition in 1880-83.
Don Quixote also returns voluntarily to his village in a hay cart, shown in Hippolyte Lecomte’s oil painting of Don Quixote’s Homecoming from the early nineteenth century.
Hay wains are one of the most painted forms of transport, appearing somewhere in almost every harvest scene. There are two with special claims to fame.
Hieronymus Bosch’s Haywain Triptych from the late years of his career is arguably his greatest work. Its centre panel features the haywain in the middle, as part of a dense procession of figures slowly making their way from left to right.
Three centuries later, John Constable’s magnificent painting of The Hay Wain (1821) failed to find a buyer when exhibited in Paris and London, but thankfully was finally recognised as a masterwork, and now graces the collection of the National Gallery in London.
Wagons also saw extensive use for moving timber, stone and other building materials.
Francisco Goya’s Transporting a Stone (1786-87) shows a prepared stone arriving on an ox cart during the construction of what appears to be the Alameda Castle, which has now been swallowed up by the city of Madrid. The Duchess of Osuna used stone from the ruins of the castle to create a large and beautiful park around her palace, in what’s known as El Capricho Park. In the foreground one of the workers is being carried away on a stretcher, presumably after an accident in construction work, in a small scene of social realism.
Groundworks for the major reconstruction of the centre of Paris during the late nineteenth century depended on steam power. In Armand Guillaumin’s painting of Pont Marie, Quai Sully from 1878 the heavy crane is surrounded by a cloud of steam, and contrasts with the long row of more traditional technology, the horse and cart.
Well into the twentieth century, goods and cargos continued to be moved by horses and wagons. In George Bellows’ New York from 1911, the dense mass of people contains several vehicles, including two goods wagons drawn by horses.
Horse-drawn chariots had long been a symbol of those ranking highest. Charles Le Brun’s painting of Alexander Entering Babylon from 1665 shows the Macedonian king riding in a large golden chariot hauled by a small elephant, as the spoils of war are exhibited around them.
European monarchs followed this tradition. Nicholas Chevalier’s view of ‘Thanksgiving Day’: The Procession to St Paul’s Cathedral, 27 February 1872 shows a one-off state thanksgiving for the recovery from severe illness of the Prince of Wales. The Queen and Prince attended Saint Paul’s Cathedral (the obvious dome in the distance) in the midst of the city of London to give public thanks to God. Approaching the arch is the carriage containing the royal party.
By the 1920s, much of this was gone, displaced by motor vehicles.
In contrast to Lesser Ury’s earlier paintings of horse-drawn cabs in Berlin, this view of a Berlin Street in Sunshine is dominated by the motor taxi. Berlin had started operating the first electric trams in the world in 1881, and its first elevated lines were opened in 1902, by which time most of the city’s tram network was powered by overhead electric lines.
Electric trams and motor taxis were too much for horses, although I still remember the horse-drawn carts of ‘rag and bone’ scrap merchants plying the streets of London’s suburbs during the 1960s.