Au Rendez-vous (Tilbury à la hollandoise 1740-1774), Etching and hand-applied watercolor on paper, 1896
Though many would proclaim automotive design a novelty of the 20th century, the story of human transportation is far older than the infamous Model-T. Indeed, the way in which humans travel has been ever evolving since the invention of the first wheel around 3,500 BCE. Over time, the wheel was perfected, and what was once Bronze Age technology morphed into a sophisticated vehicle-like form. Initially designed for the purposes of war and work, the function of these vehicles later shifted, becoming a commodity focused on leisure and convenience. This work, Au Rendez-vous (Tilbury à la hollandoise 1740-1774), is an aquatint and watercolor on paper and is part of the oeuvre of 19th-century French artist Louis Vallet. It belongs to his 1896 portfolio entitled Histoire des Voitures et des Attelages (The History of Coaches and Carriages) which examines the development of the carriage from 1400 to 1895.
The genre scenes that make up this portfolio function together as a narrative, and provide insight into the pre-automotive, horse-dependent designs that would ultimately influence the design of the modern car. By definition, Vallet’s scenes also integrate a great deal of social commentary, and harbor various symbolic meanings pertaining to transportation and movement. A well-known water colorist and illustrator, Louis Vallet (1856-1940) worked primarily in the style known as Art Nouveau. A highly decorative style of art, Art Nouveau was prominent in Western Europe and the US from about 1890 until World War I. The style is characterized by intricate linear designs and flowing curves based on natural forms, along with a soft and subtle use of color.