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Review: Two Last Nights! Show Business in Georgian Britain.
Foundling Museum. 20 September 2019 – 5 January 2020

title250Having made a spirited recovery in the late Stuart period following the Restoration and into early Georgian times, public entertainment venues in London remained few. This all changed as the 18C progressed and more of the population found themselves better off and with more leisure time. Pursuits that were mainly the domain of the well-off spread to the growing middle class. Simultaneously, forms of entertainment became more diverse, notably the emergence of pleasure gardens such as Vauxhall, Ranelagh, Bagnigge Wells and others.

This is the subject of a new exhibition at the Foundling Museum. While the growth of the entertainment industry was nationwide, the fountainhead was inevitably London. This show examines primarily the business of public entertainment rather than the forms on offer, although we get a bit of that too. So we are primarily looking at the theatres themselves, the marketing, the consumes, the fashions and – most entertainingly – how the theatre-goers were perceived, and also satirised.

dressing up

Miss Rattle dressing for the Pantheon, 1770s.

Entering the exhibition we are first met with marketing materials mainly in the form of printed handbills. all are in the distinct period multi-typeface, centre-ranged, capital-heavy form of the time. Nonetheless, competition was stiff and it’s quite sophisticated stuff from which the title of this show derives.

handbill

Handbill for Theatre Royal, Covent Garden.

Most of the ephemera on display relates to tickets. Except in the cheapest of cheap seats in the pit or the ‘pidgeon holes’ (crammed sections in the Gods with heavily constricted views), theatre-going remained quite pricy and I think this is reflected in the beauty of the engraved tickets which often featured the architecture of the theatre and other classical forms. Some even bore wax seals. They could be anything from modern post card size almost up to A4 in some cases.

But for me, the most fun part was relating to the audience. Hogarth’s famous Laughing Audience is here, of course, but there are many more along the same lines including the best of Rowlandson – one in particular which makes the point that country audiences in rough and ready theatres enjoy themselves far more than the stiffy, sniffy city types. It is a point which one might care to refute knowing the reputation of a typical London audience which – as is shown in several pictures – is separated from the players literally with a rows of metal spikes.

comedy in the country500

Comedy in the Country, Tragedy in London. By Rowlandson.

I would have liked to have seen something on two forms of public entertainment which were invented in this period: Satire, as presented by Samuel Foote (1720 – 1777) at his own patent theatre in the Haymarket; and Astley’s Circus, as presented by Philip Astley (1742 – 1814). Both were almost instantly successful and the latter in particular begat imitators which have continued down to today.

Print, satire, entertainment, fashion. All flourished in the Georgian period, and all are bought together here in this exhibition in a most pleasing way.


The entry to Two Last Nights! is free with your Foundling Museum ticket which is £13.20 for adults. National Art Fund members get into the museum entirely free of charge. 

 

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It seems obvious now you mention it, but it took someone to notice and then do something about it: Hogarth’s pictures are often very noisy. Whether outdoors or in, his compositions variously feature musicians, crying babies, street criers, yapping dogs, yowling cats, noisy children, yelling crowds and sometimes all of the above. Cacophony. This new exhibition at the Foundling Museum is called Hogarth & The Art of Noise.

Anyone who knows a little Hogarth if prompted about noise, will of course cite The Enraged Musician (1741), for many, his most amusing piece.

The Enraged Musician 1741 by William Hogarth 1697-1764

The curators claim 19 sources of racket in this image. I only managed to pick out 14. How about you? Here’s a bigger version.

But the centrepiece of this exhibition, the painting from which all else in the show is derived, is the museum’s own Hogarth masterpiece: The March of the Guards to Finchley (1750). It is Hogarth at his most opinionated, prejudiced and spiky. In short, at his best. It depicts the then fairly new Guards regiments in their mitre style headgear carousing in Tottenham Court prior to marching off to quell the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Many of the noisy elements from The Enraged Musician are present – e.g. yowling rooftop cats: Hogarth was never shy of recycling a good visual joke. The point of the picture is to contrast the virility and virtue of Hanoverian Protestant Britain on the left with the weak, immoral and Catholic late Stuarts on the right.

finchley
Larger version of this painting here.

Elsewhere in this quite small exhibition we have other examples from many of Hogarth’s work and noise, e.g. The Laughing Audience, alongside comparisons with his near contemporaries. To add further context, you can also listen via headphones to readings from Henry Fielding, Daniel Defoe and others.

William Hogarth and the Founding Museum are inextricably connected. He was a founding Governor of Captain Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital (1739)  for (mainly) illegitimate babies. Along with GF Handel and others, he did pro bono work for the hospital, such as designing its logo, as well as participating in fund-raising art exhibitions along with contemporary artists. He and his wife Jane – childless themselves – also occasionally fostered children from the hospital at their home in Chiswick.

This is a very thoughtful and thought-provoking exhibition. It’s further reassuring to see one of its consultants was Elizabeth Einberg, author of  the most scholarly book on Hogarth’s work ever produced. Most of all, though, it presents the opportunity to examine a Hogarth masterpiece completely unhindered by glass, distance or crowds. Don’t miss it!


Hogarth and the Art of Noise runs at the Foundling Museum until 1 September 2019.

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A guest post by LH Member Julian Woodford.
Review: Orphans of Empire by Helen Berry.

orphans of empireThe spirit of William Hogarth runs vividly through Orphans of Empire, Professor Helen Berry’s latest book, which explores the story of what happened to the orphaned or abandoned children of London’s Foundling Hospital. Before reading it, I knew that the hospital was the brainchild of the shipwright, sea captain and philanthropist Thomas Coram. I knew too from Jenny Uglow’s excellent biography of Hogarth that the artist had been Coram’s friend and an enthusiastic and active patron of the hospital. But I hadn’t realised just how firmly the Foundling Hospital story was seated in Hogarthian London until I read Berry’s fascinating account, which draws heavily on Hogarth’s work for its illustrations and for two of its principal chapter headings.

I am somewhat red-faced to admit that I had never managed to visit the Foundling Museum, tucked in the north-east corner of Bloomsbury’s Brunswick Square, next door to Virginia Woolf’s former residence and adjacent to the former site of Coram’s hospital. So it was a treat to follow Helen Berry’s directions, taking the road less travelled by the throngs of British Museum or Covent Garden-bound tourists leaving the Underground at Russell Square and instead heading, via Brunswick Square and its giant plane tree, to Coram’s Fields. The Foundling Museum, with its poignant collection of foundling tokens and its impressive recreation of the hospital’s Court Room, (not to mention several stunning Hogarth originals, including Thomas Coram’s lifesize portrait and ‘The March to Finchley’) is a humbling yet hugely rewarding experience, but I can state wholeheartedly that its enjoyment is magnified several-fold by the contemporaneous reading of Professor Berry’s book.

Berry’s account interweaves two themes. She is not the first historian to articulate the broad general history of Thomas Coram and his Foundling Hospital in the context of the eighteenth-century charitable movement among London’s governing elite. But she has broken new ground in exploring the rich seam of the Foundling Hospital archive (seventeen double-decker buses-worth of shelving, as Berry points out). This has enabled her to supplement the institutional story with snippets from the remarkable diary of George King, a foundling who went on to experience life as an apprentice in the City of London before running away to sea, fighting at Trafalgar and teaching in South Carolina before ending his days as he had begun them, institutionalised in London as a Naval Pensioner and as clerk to the Greenwich Hospital. As Berry touchingly puts it, the ‘single precious thread’ of King’s diary, punctuated by the ‘smaller broken whispers’ of other former foundlings, has allowed her to illuminate how Britain’s imperial progress shaped the fates of some of the poorest in society.

Orphans of Empire’s many highlights include Berry’s moving and vivid description of the grief of young mothers as they handed over their new-born babies to the hospital, almost certainly never to see them again. Throughout the book, Berry knits together a most interesting recap of the persistent central role played by the orphan/foundling in myth and literature, from Moses to Romulus and Remus, Fielding’s Tom Jones and Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Her statistical analysis hammers home the sheer scale of failure of eighteenth-century society and parochial government to provide social support for children. Survivors like George King were lucky: two-thirds of the almost 15,000 children admitted to the hospital between 1756-1760 died while in its care, a mortality rate that sometimes rose to as high as 90%. And I was intrigued to learn that several of the hospital’s main benefactors, including Thomas Coram and Hogarth themselves, along with Georg Friedrich Handel, were each themselves childless and that this lack may have been a driving force of their philanthropy.

My only disappointment in this otherwise excellent book is some careless editing. I became confused by the interchangeable use of the terms ‘General Reception’ and ‘General Admission’ (compounded by distinct index entries) to describe the failed experiment in 1756-1760 when parliamentary funding led to the hospital becoming a national, rather than just a London-based, concern and which led to an explosion in demand that almost overwhelmed the institution’s ability to cope. In a similar vein, the statistical analysis of admission numbers and mortality could have been presented more coherently in a single place instead of being scattered throughout, with some resulting unnoticed editorial duplication (pages 58, 97).

This small gripe is not enough to spoil an enlightening account of one of the peripheral but important byways of Britain’s imperial history. Helen Berry’s use of detailed archival research to amplify and vivify the tale of a famous London institution is instructive and exemplary. Orphans of Empire is a super book, nicely produced, with good black & white illustrations, clear endnotes and indexing, and I recommend it to all London Historians.

Orphans of Empire: The Fate of London’s Foundlings. By HELEN BERRY. pp. xv + 364 + 20 illustrations within text, indexed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019. £20.00, but available for less. ISBN 978-0-19-875848-8. Hardback. Published 11 April.

This book is London Historians members’ book competition for March 2019.


The Foundling Museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays, admission £10 for adults.


Julian Woodford is a historian and author of The Boss of Bethnal Green, Joseph Merceron the Godfather of Regency London. @HistoryLondon

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If you walk down Marchmont Street near Russell Square tube, you’ll see strange devices in the paving slabs. Here is a montage featuring most of them.

foundling museum london

Why?

They are actually accurate representations of tokens from the nearby Foundling Museum, one of London’s most interesting, an institution which is both heartbreaking and uplifting. We’ve covered it elsewhere but not for a while and I shall write about its new exhibition in the next day or so. The museum remembers for posterity the Foundling Hospital, set up in the mid 18th century as a home for unwanted babies who were then raised and educated by the institution. Some of these children were left a token by their mothers as a remembrance which – sadly – they were never given. There are many on display, but here are some of the originals which feature in the paving.

Foundling Museum London

“You have my Heart Tho wee must Part, Nat. 6: Sep.r 1759”. © The Foundling Museum, London

Foundling Museum London

Ivory fish. © The Foundling Museum, London

Foundling Museum London

Beer jug badge. © The Foundling Museum, London

I don’t know who decorated the pavement with these signs which probably go largely unnoticed by Londoners and visitors alike but it’s a thoughtful touch. Look out for them and, if you have time, go and see the real ones at the Foundling Museum nearby.

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There were two fabulous back-to-back programmes on BBC4 last night as part of its Books on the BBC season. First we had, by way of starters, Ancient Bibles, the first of four episodes  in the Beauty of Books thread. Instead of spreading itself too thin – often a danger – we were shown just two tomes: the Codex Sinaiticus, written in Greek in about 350AD; and the Winchester Bible from the late 12C . 

The Sinaiticus resides in the British Library. It comprises just the Gospels, it is unillustrated and laid out in plain four column format. The fascinating thing is the thousands of corrections that had been done on it, extremely neatly. No crossings-out, or deletions, hence a treasure trove for bibilical scholars. The book was kept for well over a millennium at the  St Katherine’s monestary in Sinai (which I visited once: utterly inundated by tourists) until discovered (from a Western point of view) by a German scholar in the 19C. What wasn’t fully explained was how the thing ended up in the British Library. A pity. The Winchester Bible, commissioned by Henry, Bishop of Winchester, the brother of King Stephen, is an enormous book, created in over 10 years from the 1160s. It is quite simply one of the most stunning objects I have seen on TV. The illuminations, created by six different artists, clearly identified as being masters from the Continent and not England, are quite breathtaking. Something I did not know: a book is only considered to be “illuminated” if the pictures are properly embellished with either gold or silver.

But for me, the treat of the evening was what followed: the Birth of the British Novel. It was an hour long programme and not a second was wasted. Never leaving the 18C, presenter Henry Hitchings took us on a guided romp  from Daniel Defoe with Robinson Crusoe through Swift, Fielding, Sterne, Burney, Walpole H. to William Godwin.  I have not come across Hitchings before; his presentation is authoritative and unobtrusive, just how it should be. A  host who realises he is the guide, not the star. Of all the authors covered, only Samuel Richardson – hitherto unfamiar to me – was given a bit of a kicking for being a perv and a sadist, although his contribution was acknowledged. Historical backdrop and context were fully explored. Locations were wonderfully exploited (including Strawberry Hill House and the Foundling Museum, joy of joys). Talking heads, such as Will Self, Martin Amis, Margaret Drabble, were intelligently yet sparingly probed.

the gallery strawberry hill house

The Gallery, Strawberry Hill House. Horace Walpole based many scenes from The Castle of Otranto here.

And once again – as we see over and over – there intruded the industrious hand of a man who was at the nexus of  all that mattered in mid-18C art and societal affairs, yet he wrote no novels: the mighty William Hogarth.

I found myself – having known a little about each of these pioneering Georgian writers – much, much better informed: equipped, ready and itching to read or re-read their works. What more could one ask from a programme?

So well done the Beeb. This is the stuff that justifies the licence fee.

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We have covered this magnificent exhibition at the Foundling Museum already, but I didn’t realise that they have a superb online rendition of the show, brought to our attention by Prof. Amanda Vickery. Do check it out, and then do your utmost to visit the show itself. The museum is worth a visit in its own right, particularly if you enjoy beautifully appointed rooms, Hogarth and Handel to mention but a few of the joys. It’s worth mentioning too that the Charles Dickens Museum is just around the corner.

Threads of Feeling ends on 6 March, the clock is ticking.

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william hogarth

Self portrait, 1745, Tate Britain

Today we celebrate William Hogarth‘s 313th birthday. He was a Londoner and a patriot, a loving husband and a passionate humanitarian. And, of course, a fabulous dauber.

I first became interested in Hogarth about ten years ago, for parochial reasons, really. An unveiling of his 300th anniversary statue was to take place a few hundred yards from where I worked in Chiswick. This was in 2001, some several years after the actual anniversary. I clearly remember waiting patiently in the freezing rain with hundreds of other Hogarth fans, including Ian Hislop and David Hockney, for the Mayor of Hounslow to do the honours. His Worship was so late that it fell on Hislop to do the deed, as I recall it, but at least the rain let up for the key moment. The fundraising for this monument had been so successful that the organising committee were able to add Hogarth’s famous pug to the commission.

Most of us are familiar with Hogarth’ s work – The Rake’s Progress,  Marriage à-la-mode and so on. What makes them so enjoyable is their cartoonic qualities, indeed their strip cartoonic qualities in many cases. You can admire a landscape or seascape or still life or formal portrait. But you can love a Hogarth.  Gin Lane or The Hay Wain? It’s no contest.

william hogarth ian  hislop

2001: Ian Hislop does the honours.

Of course, as an artisan painter and engraver, he did plenty of jobbing work too – commissioned portraits, book illustrations, etc. But his pictures are ultimately all about people, always the people, many of them grotesque characactures, yet brimming with humanity. They tell us as much about 18th century life as thousands of words from so many historians.

What I really admire about Hogarth is that outside of his talent, he was a practical businessman and energetic philanthropist, and one has to wonder where he found the time, given his prodigious output.

Two of his innovations stand out.

Hogarth became frustrated at copies of his engravings being sold in their thousands with not a penny accruing to him. So he did something about it. It was largely thanks to his lobbying that Parliament, in 1734, passed the Engraving Copyright Act, informally known as Hogarth’s Act. This protected all makers of original engravings from being ripped off. It was eventually superceded by the Copyright Act of 1911.  How many writers, artists, musicians and film makers today realise the debt they owe to Hogarth? 

Hogarth was a keen supporter of the establishment of Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital which was a care home for abandoned children. Indeed he and his wife Jane, who were childless, ran a wet nursery in support of the hospital from their home in Chiswick. Hogarth donated some paintings to the hospital and came up with the idea of encouraging other artists to do the same and then holding fund-raisers by inviting rich people to come and see the paintings. So it can reasonably be argued that Hogarth was the inventor of the public art gallery. Although I knew there were Hogarths at the Foundling Museum, I only learned about all of this a matter of weeks ago when I visited the museum for the first time.

Tonight we will be toasting Hogarth’s memory in gin. I’m not sure he would have approved, but the proceeds will all go towards restoring his old house on the south side of the A4 in Chiswick. It will reopen to the public next summer. We’ll keep you informed.

So, Cheers! Happy Birthday, Bill. Can I call you Bill?

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