David Coke & Alan Borg
The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is one of the places I’d love to slip back in time to visit, just to catch a glimpse of what it was like. After recently splurging to buy this lovely coffee-table book, I thought it might make a wonderful subject for a new blog series. But do buy the book too, if you can! The photos are fabulous!
The Paintings in the Pillared Saloon
The Pillared Saloon was built onto the Rotunda in 1750-51 to provide more wall space for paintings and, of course, draw more visitors. The original idea was to have allegorical paintings of the royal family—Prince Frederick and his family—demonstrating how love of the arts manifested his virtue and patriotism. Frederick’s untimely death in 1751 put paid to this idea and delayed the project for almost ten years.
Two full-length portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte in their coronation robes did appear soon after their marriage in 1761. The royal pair is known to have sat for the painter—undoubtedly Frances Hayman—in person as a special favor to Jonathan Tyers.
The Seven Years’ War Paintings
In contrast to the lightheartedness of the supper-box paintings and the drama of the Shakespearean scenes, the four remaining paintings for the Pillared Saloon were to be patriotic history paintings. These were not the typical classical scenes or representations of events from the distance past, but “very recent military actions populated by real living people wearing contemporary costume.”
[Hayman] chose not the violence of heroic death or even topographical portrayals of military action, but rather its aftermath, in order to convey the virtues of the individual British military commanders, magnanimous and humane in victory.
The Surrender of Montreal to General Amherst
Amazingly, this painting appeared in the Pillared Saloon in 1761, only eight months after the event it depicts.
It was the most overtly propagandic of the four military scenes, emphasising the selfless humanity of General Jeffrey Amherst: Hayman showed him handing out food to the starving and defeated population and returning to them their possessions; this was intended to be in stark contrast to the merciless treatment they might have expected from the French, had they been victorious, and especially from their Indian allies.
In the Description (1762), much is made of the contrast between the defeated and miserable French and the victorious but humane British, and the author instructed readers to view the paintings as a true representation of one of ‘the most glorious transactions of the present war’.
The Triumph of Britannia
The second painting, which was installed for the opening of the 1762 season, was a representation of the defeat of the French fleet at Quiberon Bay in November 1759. “As its allegorical title would suggest, it was intended to glorify the British military leaders involved in the action and the natural alliance of Britannia with Neptune that had given Britain mastery of the seas.”
However, because it did not entirely succeed in capturing the essential majestic dignity that was necessary to this type of allegorical work, the Triumph of Britannia was not always taken seriously by its audience. It is specifically and humorously singled out in Fanny Burney’s novel Evelina of 1778; during a visit to Vauxhall, Mr. Smith ridiculously mistakes the figure of Neptune for that of a famous general, despite the fact that he is wearing ‘the oddest dress for a general ever I see’.
Lord Clive Receiving the Homage of the Nabob
A companion piece to the Surrender, this painting was installed in time for the 1763 season. The historical event depicted was the Battle of Plassey, at which Robert Clive ousted the ruling Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-daula and, “in an apparently magnanimous act, [Clive] then supported the claim to supremacy of the elderly general Mir Jafar (c. 1691-1765), Nawab of Murshidabad, who had actually fought against the British, but who was more easily persuaded to the British point of view.”
In that battle the British forces were famously outnumbered by twenty to one, but were nevertheless victorious with the loss of only eighteen men (according to Clive), lending it the heroic ideal; in fact this was undeserved, and the British were saved from probable defeat only by the quick thinking of their artillerymen who covered their weapons and powder during a downpour, while the enemy did not.
The description of the painting started with “The subject of this picture is of the most interesting nature, to every Briton who regards the honour and propsperity of this country’, no doubt insinuating that it would be unpatriotic to criticize it.
The second description
praises General Clive for his leadership, and for his generosity in giving the sultanate to Mir Jafar;
therefore performing for his Country a most important Service, as well as procuring for the India Company and Individuals the Sum of Three Millions Sterling, for their Losses sustained at Calcutta; with such Privileges, Immunities, and Advantages, as they never enjoyed before. And this Revolution hath been moreover the Means of the India Company’s acquiring the Territorial Possessions, to the Amount of Seven hundred thousand Pounds per Annum.
In retrospect, General Clive’s generosity seems less altruistic considering the huge commercial gains resulting from the acquisition of this territory.
Britannia Distributing Laurels
A companion piece to the Triumph of Britannia, Britannia Distributing Laurels was installed in 1764. Unfortunately, no version of this piece is known to be in existence. However, it is known to have depicted the full-length figures of Generals Granby, Monckton, Albemarle, Coote, Townshend and Wolfe, all in Roman costume, allegorical in nature.
The story goes that, when Granby came to Hayman’s studio in St. Martin’s Lane, he challenged Hayman to a boxing match before the sitting. After a hesitant start, which Granby overcame by saying that the exercise would give animation to his portrait, Hayman apparently floored the marquis with a tremendous punch to the stomach, and Mrs. Hayman, hurrying upstairs to see what the noise was, found them ‘rolling over each other on the carpet like two bears.’
Tyers as the Ultimate Patron of 18th century British Art
The inscription under the engraving of Hayman’s Triumph of Britannia describes him as a ‘”Lover and Encourager of the Arts.’” He was described by Henry Angelo as having “laid out more money in the encouragement of English art than any man of his time. Indeed, his house was so full of pictures, that after hanging them, even on his stair-case, there were still some to spare.”
Jonathan Tyers didn’t just use art to further his commercial ambitions; he was a true conoisseur. And it was his dream to open up the arts to all layers of society, not just the upper class.
The huge developments in British art through the middle of the eighteenth century were in large part due to the concurrence of Vauxhall Gardens, the Foundling Hospital, the Society of Artists and the Royal Academy and to the men involved in those institutions, notably Hogarth, Hayman and, of course, Tyers… After the collaboration of Tyers and Hayman, the visual arts at Vauxhall never again received the same degree of patronage from its proprietors.
The paintings and sculpture at Vauxhall Gardens would have been the best-known works of art in England at the time, seen by tens of thousands of people, including significant numbers of artists, every year. Although Tyers owed much to Hogarth, initially the driving force behind the artistic concept of the gardens, it was Hayman, Tyers’s artistic director, who could be seen as the more influential figure. This was partly because of the huge exposure of his original work at Vauxhall, and also because he was the linchpin that held together the London art profession, with a finger in all the principal artistic pies of the time—the St Martin’s Lane Academy, Vauxhall Gardens, the Foundling Hospital, the Society of Artists and, eventually, their august offspring, the Royal Academy.
Susana’s Vauxhall Blog Post Series
- Vauxhall Gardens: A History
- Vauxhall Gardens: Jonathan Tyers—“The Master Builder of Delight”
- Vauxhall Gardens: A New Direction
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Orchestra and the Supper-Boxes
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Organ, the Turkish Tent, and the Rotunda
- Vauxhall Gardens: Three Piazzas of Supper-Boxes
- Vauxhall Gardens: “whither every body must go or appear a sort of Monster in polite Company”
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Competition
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part I
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part II
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Music, 1732-1859
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Business Side
- Vauxhall Gardens: Developments from 1751-1786
- Vauxhall Gardens: Thomas Rowlandson’s Painting (1785)
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Third Generation of the Tyers Family and the Jubilee of 1786
- Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part I
- Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part II
- Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part III
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part I
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part II
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part III
- Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part IV
- Vauxhall Gardens: Farewell, for ever