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The phaeton was the sports car of the day: a light, open, owner-driven, two-horse carriage. The name comes from Phaeton, the son of Apollo, who borrowed and crashed his father's sun-chariot. For a smooth ride, even at speed, the Phaeton had large wheels and huge steel leaf-springs, from which the seat was suspended by means of leather straps, which gave it the nick-name 'High-Flyer' and occasioned numerous satires. In some examples the two axels were the only rigid elements of the design, connected by another steel leaf-spring to allow the vehicle to flex over bumps, like modern independent suspension. Contemporary illustrations suggest that that this fine example of British industrial design was regarded as the pinnacle of fashion and symbol of fast living, women drivers being especially singled out for admiration or opprobrium. When the Prince of Wales over-turned his Phaeton, while driving alone with Mrs Fitzherbert, he presented satirists with an easy target. The Prince's carriage here is to be drawn by two magnificently sleek black horses, whose coats and accoutrements match the colours of the carriage and the livery of the groom. The artist explains the harnesses and provides a three-quarter view of the carriage without drawing attention to the technical difficulty of either. This is a scene designed to appeal to the discerning eye of a man of fashion, who in this era would have possessed some expertise in horse-flesh and a more general concern that their mews should be efficiently run and their servants well turned-out. Such things mattered because they reflected on the owner and master. Contemporaries would have recognised in this painting a reflection upon (even a portrait of) the owner of this equipage - the Prince of Wales. We see here a Prince unstuffy enough to drive his own carriage, reducing the trappings of rank to a set of modest silver arms decorating the horses' blinkers. The pomp of a Prince is replaced by the elegance of a man of fashion. The quiet dignity of this scene, supported by the Prince's portly coachman and methodical assistant, is only disrupted by his Spitz dog, Fino, leaping up at the horse, which starts back in alarm. Signed and dated: Geo: Stubbs pinxit / 1793

Details

  • Title: The Prince of Wales's Phaeton
  • Creator: George Stubbs
  • Date Created: 1793
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Supplied by Royal Collection Trust / (c) HM Queen Elizabeth II 2012
  • External Link: http://www.rct.uk/collection/400994
  • Medium: Oil on Canvas
  • Provenance: Painted for George IV
  • Object description: In front of a large lake, possibly Virginia Water, Samuel Thomas, in livery, holds the head of a dark bay horse, while another horse draws back from the dog Fino; right a tiger boy raises the shaft of a phaeton, to which the horses are to be harnessed; birch tree on the right, under cloudy sky

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