Sunday, August 11, 2013

It's All in the Details: Early 19th c. Coaching Paintings by James Pollard

Sunday, August 11, 2013
Isabella reporting:

It may sound like a contradiction for writers, but Loretta and I agree that one really, really good picture is indeed worth a thousand words. We recently came across a zoomable collection of paintings by James Pollard (1792-1867) and spent a lengthy long-distance call exclaiming in our best nerdy-history-style over all the amazing details to be found in his work - details that vividly show traveling and transportation in early 19th c. England.

Pollard isn't the kind of painter that's taught today in art history classes, nor is he featured in blockbuster museum shows. Instead of elegant brushwork or psychological insight, his work is based on skillful observation and attention to detail. As a child, Pollard's family lived on the main northern coaching route, and he became fascinated with the great coaches that rumbled past. Coaches were the Regency's equivalent of jet-set travel, setting records for speed and making country-wide travel possible. Pollard was trained not only in his father's print-making trade, but also studied painting, and his first commission in 1820 was for an innkeeper's signboard, showing the Exeter Royal Mail Coach in perfectly observed detail. The signboard was admired by the Austrian ambassador, who commissioned a copy on canvas, and Pollard's career as a coaching and sporting painter was launched. For the next twenty years, he prospered with numerous commissions, and he exhibited at the Royal Academy. However, the death of his wife and daughter in 1840 sent him into a deep depression that virtually ended his painting career, and when he died in 1867, he was sadly forgotten and penniless.

The detail in Pollard's paintings - and the prints made from them - is extraordinary. Not only are the coaches, carriages, and horses depicted down to every harness and spoke, but Pollard devoted equal care to what the people in his paintings are wearing, and their surroundings as well. I love how, in Hatchetts - the White Horse Cellar, Piccadilly, above, all of the windows of Hatchetts Hotel are different: some are open, some have the shades drawn, or hanging crookedly, and one has a lady watching the crowded scene below. Trafalgar Square, below, shows the London of the 1830s that I picture when I read Loretta's books, with the ladies in their extravagant gowns and hats and gentlemen in well-fitted coats and tall hats, and everyone (including the dogs) dodging the traffic.

While you can click on the images here to enlarge, the Denver Art Museum's site has zoomable images for both these paintings here and here. I also hope you'll follow this link to the Pollard page on Wikipedia, where you can enlarge the high-resolution images much further than Blogger allows. If you wish to see more, this link to the BBC Your Paintings site will take you to a slideshow of thirty paintings by Pollard.

Above: Hatchetts - the White Horse Cellar, Piccadilly, by James Pollard, c. 1830. Denver Art Museum.
Below: Trafalgar Square, by James Pollard, c. 1837-43, Denver Art Museum.


Helena said...

Thank you for highlighting these fascinating pictures. I've just looked through the BBC collection - wonderful detail, as you say.

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