Changing Horsesc. 1880 by
Henry, Edward Lamson 1841-1919
On one level this painting simply shows a stage stopping at a country village for a change of horses, but on another it alludes to the profound alterations in American society following the Civil War. In the center of the painting Henry features an elegant Concord coach-precisely rendered from actual models-that has brought fashionably clad city folk to a rural town. In this way the scene demonstrates how the network of stage lines was causing urban life-styles to impinge on old country ways. How stark is the contrast between the bustled gown of the lady in the road and the simple garb of the woman at the door of the inn, the bored impatience of the woman looking out the coach window and the contented idleness of the men on the porch. While the villagers belong to this sleepy New York backwater, the passengers are probably en route from the metropolis to their summer lodgings. The setting is no doubt based on the excursions Henry began to take in 1879 to the mountains of southeastern New York. The sign partially visible on the building to the left is likely a reference to Mountain House, a dining and dancing spot near Cragsmoor, where Henry later settled.
Peripheral details in the work may refer to other kinds of changes in American life. The inclusion of blacks-a groom bringing fresh horses, on the right, and a little girl shyly peeking out from behind a tree, on the left-is a reminder of their altered political position after the Civil War. The poster on the foreground tree reading "Grand Democratic Rally...Victory," undoubtedly pertaining to the 1880 election, may be an indirect reference to the extension of the franchise to blacks resulting from the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1870.
Although Henry has used his usual care in documenting specifics, such as the stagecoach, costumes, and horses, all painted with painstaking care, the perspective of the buildings is not accurate. Instead of the orthodox single vanishing point, he has used one for the building on the left and another for the building on the right, indicating two different viewpoints. Since Henry was a stickler for correct perspective, we must seek a possible reason for this discrepancy. The vanishing point of the inn is far to the right of center, giving a broad view of the building as well as the parallel road and stagecoach group. Had the same vanishing point been used on the right, the stable would have extended much farther into the road, eliminating the spot where the groom and his horses are placed.
Size (inches): 17 1/8 x 30 1/4
Medium: Oil on Canvas