Arthur Ralph Middleton Todd, R.A. (1891-1966)
The gypsy caravan
oil on canvas
24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm.)
frame 29 x 24 ½ in. (73.7 x 62.2 cm.)
Nicknamed the ‘kite wagon’ due to it’s sloping walls, the caravan depicted by Arthur Todd is a Reading, a design that was popular with Romany Gypsies for it’s ability to negotiate rough terrain. Contrary to common belief, the caravan was only adopted by the Gypsies in the 1850s - up until then, they travelled by horse and foot, sleeping under carts and pitching tents for shelter (1). Inhabitable horse-drawn wagons were developed in around 1810 in France, and first used by travelling circuses and entertainers.
The Romany term for a caravan is a vardo, from the Iranian vurden, a word assimilated as the communities passed through Persia from India (2). Taking up to a year to build, vardoes (made from a combination of oak, pine, ash, elm and walnut) were predominantly commissioned for newly married couples.
(1) The tents were known as 'benders', due to their hazel rod frames.
(2) Romany Gypsy culture can be traced back to 9th Century India.