Just as today’s automobiles vary in class and purpose, carriages of the 1800s and early 1900s were available in a wide selection of styles to serve different purposes. The Hunt for a Seat: Sporting Carriages in the Early Twentieth Century explores the unique characteristics, design, and history of sporting-class vehicles. Planned to coincide with A Sporting Vision: The Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Art at The Frick Art Museum, this special installation includes four loaned carriages to supplement three in the Frick’s collection and create a broader picture of the use of carriages for sport and recreation.
Until the mid-1800s, a carriage for personal transportation was a luxury limited to the wealthy. Although Industrialization led to increased production and a greater variety of specialized carriages for sport, pleasure, or general transportation, few people could afford to own and maintain their own vehicle. A carriage required horses, stables, and the staff to care for them. As factory-produced carriages became more affordable and were available to the middle class, wealthier families like the Fricks continued to buy customized luxury vehicles.
Similarly, time spent on sport and leisure was enjoyed primarily by the affluent. In addition to horseback riding and pleasure driving, men and women used their free time to attend sporting events like horse races, polo matches, and steeple chases. Shooting and hunting parties were also popular, and important venues for business and social connections. These activities required the proper carriage and attire in order to ensure societal approval. The carriage’s proportion and finish– trimmings and fittings of the interior, and the colors of the horses and their bridles, saddles, and harnesses, even the appearance of the coachman– all indicated the elite position and refined taste of the owner.
Carriage styles featured in the exhibition will include a Roof Seat Break used for coaching four-in-hand (a carriage drawn by four horses, but driven by one coachman), a Shooting Break, a Meadowbrook Cart, an Outing Wagon, and a Chubb Phaeton. In addition to sporting carriages the exhibition features the fashions associated with these activities. Women’s riding habits will illustrate appropriate dress for riding side saddle while “hunting pinks” represent the proper apparel for a fox hunt.