Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Vauxhall Gardens by Thomas Rowlandson
We can thank Thomas Rowlandson for such great insight into celebrity doings of the late 18th century. In one his more famous prints, Vauxhall Gardens, he congregates all the big social players of London at the time, doing what they do best. Although the two definitions can overlap, the difference between celebrities and historical figures is that celebrities fame is short-lived and they can be forgotten over time. One of the things I enjoy about Vauxhall Gardens is seeing which celebrities of the time are historical figures and who just faded into obscurity and is just a random name on a page.
Now let's see who I can point out for you!
On the left, in the dining box, is Samuel Johnson and his crowd. However, I will note that this is up for debate among historians as to whether this is true. Pigging out with him is Boswell, Goldsmith, and Mrs. Thrale.
Above them, singing to the crowd, is another figure historians haven't agreed on. Some say it is the celebrated singer, Mrs. Weichsel others say it is her daughter, Elizabeth Billington who surpassed her mother's fame. Leading the orchestra behind her is composer, François-Hippolyte Barthélémon.
Below her in the crowd, observing some fabulous ladies with his monocle is Topham Beauclerk. And who might those ladies be who are catching Topham's eye?
Dead center, is Georgiana (in white) and her sister Harriet, in a blue riding habit. Both ladies are gossiping away unaware of the fact they are being checked out. Fluttering around them are Admiral Paisley and the editor of the Morning Herald, Sir Henry Bate. Next to him in the kilt, is the editor of the rival publication, the Morning Chronicle, James Perry. What a gossipy grouping! Perhaps those journalists are following our favourite ladies around in order to find a good story to put in print.
If they would only direct their attention the other way they would see the ravishing Mary Perdita Robinson, accompanied by her loser husband. On the other side of her is none other than the Prince of Wales, whispering sweet nothings into her ear, despite the fact that in reality the lovers had disbanded by then.