Europeans & Americans Abroad; Philadelphia Collection 73; September 2004
Giuseppe Gabani
(Italian, 1846–1900)
Coaching on the Appian Way, Rome
Oil on canvas, 33 × 59 3/4 inches
Signed and inscribed at lower right: “G. Gabani/Roma”
ILLUSTRATED: The Carriage Journal, vol. 41, no. 4 (August 2003), cover (repro. in color)

Born in Senigallia, Italy, in 1846, Giuseppe Gabani studied at the Accademia in Rome and with Cesare Maccari (1840–1919). He served in the Italian army, seeing action in 1866 and 1870. His experience with horses in the army was helpful when he subsequently specialized in painting military and sporting subjects. He also undertook religious subjects and decorative projects, which included the ceiling of the Teatro Costanzi in Rome. In spite of these projects and commissions from prominent patrons, Gabani died in poverty in Rome, October 1900.

Gabani’s charming painting Coaching on the Appian Way, Rome, is a highly animated depiction of well-appointed riders gathered as a coach and four arrives. The presence of other coaches in the background implies that a significant equestrian event such as a race is about to occur. Coaching was one of the most fashionable sports of the nineteenth century. Unlike formal coaches driven by servants, the Road Coach and its variations derived from the Royal Mail Coaches John Palmer put in service in the late eighteenth century.

Driving four horses was a difficult skill to master and required dexterity, coordination, and an ability to be patient, alert, and responsive. Accidents could happen at any moment, and a “whip” (coachman, professional or amateur) had to be an excellent horseman and had to know and control his team (of horses) while on the box seat. Driving four horses, with all of the “lines” (reins) in one hand and a whip in the other, required the ability to control all of the horses simultaneously. Because of this level of difficulty, young aristocrats learned to “handle the ribbons” or reins (i.e., drive four horses) from skilled coachmen on mail or stage coaches. By 1838, public mail coaches were replaced by the railroad for long-distance travel. In England, the demise of the public coach led to nostalgia for horse-drawn transportation, and a mania for coaching as a sport began. Numerous driving clubs were formed, including the Bensington Driving Club (1807), the Richmond Driving Club (1838), and the Four-in-Hand Club (1856). The romance of the road became something of a cult and the subject of numerous prints and paintings.

One of the key figures in the coaching revival was the Duke of Beaufort. William Jay and Delancey Astor Kane, New York gentlemen who had visited him in England, imported his influence to America. They formed the New York Coaching Club with James Gordon Bennett, Frederick Bronson, William P. Douglas, Leonard Jerome, Thomas Newbold, and S. Nicholson Kane in 1875.

Coaching gained popularity in America and abroad. It combined a general Anglophilia that was characteristic of the second half of the nineteenth century with a daring and dynamic activity for the upper echelons of society. It was an outdoor activity that required discernable skill. For the arriviste or the titled aristocrat, it reaffirmed an ancient image of the power and passion of a horse, harnessed and controlled by the capable horseman. And the potential for danger gave rise to a new category of driver, or Nimrod.1 In addition to these qualities, coaching was a public spectacle. The whip, as well as his passengers, could be seen and admired, and the totality of the turn-out, which combined horses, harness, coach, livery and other appointments, passengers, and color, was not unlike a mobile symphony, a veritable collision of disparate parts combined to create a harmonious whole. As described in Reginald Rives’s Reminiscences of the New York Coaching Club, it was
magnificent as to varnish, perfect as to appointment, and drawn by sprightly steeds, groomed to a point of shininess almost painful, the drags [style of coach] of the Coaching Club made a beautiful and imposing appearance, and their deck loads of beautiful ladies robed in the magnificence of spring attire, and the gentlemen glorifying in buttonhole bouquets and the charm of the Club uniform, added materially to the beauty of the scene.2
The popularity of coaching among wealthy Europeans and Americans led to more challenging excursions. Trips from New York to Philadelphia, London to Brighton, and Paris to Trouville were not uncommon, and the gentlemen of the day became fiercely competitive over who made the best time. They had to keep a good pace—between ten and twelve miles per hour, quickly changing teams at specified intervals. The demands of the schedule and the hazards of managing four horses over uneven roads in all sorts of weather earned the coachman—amateur or professional—a reputation as a consummate sportsman.

Gabani’s paintings capture the vitality and exuberant pleasure of the sport of coaching and the dominance of English fashion in the sport. The yellow panels of the coach in this painting, the “checkerboard team” (black and gray wheelers—the horses closest to the coach, with alternate gray and black leaders—the horses in front of the wheelers), the action of the horses in full trot, the expressions and postures of the whip and his guests on the coach, who seem to be greeting the riders on their left, give the painting a strong sense of animation and leisure at its most lively.

—Merri Ferrell


1. Nimrod was a Biblical character (Genesis 10:8–12), who was called “a mighty hunter.” His name was also the nom de plume of Charles Apperley, the English author of The Life of a Sportsman (London, 1832). During the nineteenth century, the term “Nimrod” became synonymous with a sporting man, with the inferred passion for risk, adventure and danger.    2. Reginald Rives, Reminiscences of the New York Coaching Club (New York: Derrydale Press, 1935), p. 9.

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