Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman
Carriage with Four Horses, 1885–1890
Pencil, pen, and watercolor on wove paper
12 x 17 15/16, 30.48 x 45.56 cm (sheet)
Inscription: (on verso) "Aus koffer No 2733"
Provenance: Acquired from Galerie Grünwald, Munich, 1978
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2006.11.64
Limited scholarship on Emil Volkers exists and, though many of his paintings have been identified, little is known about the artist and his work. This meticulously sketched and partially finished watercolor of a carriage with a driver and four horses provides a rare glimpse into Volkers’ working methods. While this drawing’s original purpose remains unknown—indeed very few drawings attributed to Volkers exist—comparison with a related painting, Carriage and Four on a Country Road (1889), strongly suggests that he used such watercolors as preparatory studies for his highly finished, precisely detailed oil paintings.1
Volkers was trained as a painter, draughtsman and lithographer at academies in Dresden, Munich, and Düsseldorf, and he earned his living primarily as a painter of equestrian portraits and genre scenes.2 Here he demonstrates his great technical facility as a draftsman, and his first-hand knowledge of equine anatomy and equestrian sport is evident in the careful pencil underdrawing of the horses, carriage, and driver. The underdrawing provides a basic outline upon which Volkers laid down the watercolors, creating subtle effects of light, texture and atmosphere. Heavily diffused blue, purple and pink pigments create the soft expanse of sky, while nearly dry brown and green pigments suggest grass and the loose soil of the road. The precise detail in the pencil sketch in combination with the watercolor washes suggest that Volkers made this preparatory sketch from life en plein air. While artists had worked outdoors in the past, it became a particularly popular practice in the 1870s with the introduction of readymade, affordable paints.3 Overall, Volkers’ use of pigment is restrained and the underdrawing remains visible even in areas with a comparatively high level of finish. As a result, we can see the transformative process by which a sketch becomes a painting as additional layers of paint are added.
Equestrian subjects were increasingly popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as Western European governments improved roadways, and increased wealth following the Industrial Revolution stimulated the consumption of luxury items like carriages.4 The phaeton-style carriage depicted here was a particularly fashionable model used for pleasure driving and exercise purposes. Typically drawn by one or two horses, here it is hitched to four horses—an unnecessary but impressive extravagance. Works like Carriage with Four Horses were commissioned by wealthy patrons as records of their affluence and style. Ultimately, the increasing popularity of the railway system after 1830 brought about the demise of the coaching era, and carriages became nostalgic symbols of a bygone past.5
Brittany A. Strupp
1. Carriage and Four on a Country Road (1889): Lawrences Auctioneers, Ltd.’s October 20, 2006 sale, lot 1557.
2. Emmanuel Bénézit, Dictionary of Artists, vol. 14, Paris, 2006, 450. See also Mary Ann Wingfield, A Dictionary of Sporting Artists, 1650–1990, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1992, 299.
3. Miles Chappell, Form, Function, and Finesse: Drawings from the Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, Catalogue of the Exhibition and Handlist of the Collection, Williamsburg, Virginia: Joseph and Margaret Muscarelle Museum of Art, College of William & Mary, 1983, 22.
4. Country Pursuits: British, American, and French Sporting Art from the Mellon Collections in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, 2007, 259.
5. Country Pursuits, 256.