During his stays in London in 1820 and 1821, Géricault’s fascination for horses and the lower classes of a newly industrialized world led him to study coalmen and other workmen, which seemed ubiquitous in the city, often accompanying wagons drawn by horses. In a large number of works in graphite or watercolor, he immortalized their plight in compositions that often lend a monumental, dramatic quality to their hard work (Bazin, op. cit., nos. 2214-2127, 2131, 2132, 2135, 2149, 2153, 2157, 2157A, 2161, 2164-2166-2171, 2174, 2176-2190 ill.). The present sheet is among the most accomplished and powerful of these works: the wagon and its two horses are depicted at the critical moment when they make a turn, and the coalman is caught in the strenuous effort to make it happen smoothly. This scene is charged with high tension and drama that belies its daily nature, leading Germain Bazin to remark that the drawing evokes ‘almost Michelangelesque strength which recalls the drawings made during the Italian years’ (op. cit., p. 13). A lithograph from 1821 presents a very similar scene in a much less dramatic way (fig.; ibid., no. 2176, ill.).
A much more analytical and detailed study of a horse in graphite alone is depicted on the verso of the sheet.
Fig. Jean-Louis-André-Théodore Géricault, The coal wagon, lithograph, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York