My daughter has been home from university over Easter; she is in the closing stages of writing her dissertation Class, Morality & Taste: theatre & society in Eighteenth Century London, and I have had the pleasure of reading through four different drafts (each one shorter than the last as the word count had to come down drastically). All the more apposite, then to have a day out in London and spend the afternoon at the Royal Academy retrospective Johan Zoffany RA: Society Observed. Zoffany (1733-1810) is not the most well-known of artists, but he was David Garrick’s protégé and an integral part of his publicity machine. If you have an idea in your mind of what Garrick looked like, it’s likely either Hogarth, Reynolds or Zoffany (or all three) whose portraits or conversation pieces that you have to thank. By most accounts a genial, pleasant man, his character does come through in all the portraits.
The exhibition started with Germany & Italy: the Early Years, and moved through London: Zoffany, Garrick & the Stage; Zoffany at Court; London: Zoffany & the Royal Academy; Italy: Old Masters & the Antique; Portraits & Conversations; A Passage to India; ending with Revolution, Reaction & Retirement. I can recommend it very highly, and was surprised at how un-busy it was; this is possibly because I usually forget to go to exhibitions until they are nearing the end of their run, by which time they do tend to get crowded. It was a luxury to have the space to be able to look at a picture from well back without loads of people deciding to stand in front of you (although several of us were reading the introductory panel which was, reasonably enough, just inside the entrance, only to have a man barge through moaning as he did so about people ‘standing around’ – what a novel thing to do in an art exhibition, I presume he jogs round). I hope it wasn’t quiet because not many people are going to go, as it would be a shame to miss it. There were some gems – a picture of the musical Sharp family on a barge on the Thames, some wonderful society pictures, intriguing Indian portraits and landscapes, and a couple of rather disturbing scenes from the French Revolution, including Celebrating Over the Bodies of the Swiss Soldiers.
I did find the Garrick section the most fascinating, however, but then there are so many parallels between then and now when it comes to Fame. I have a copy of Every Look Speaks: portraits of David Garrick, and one could buy porcelain figures of him (and other actors) as various characters, as well as a tea-tray decorated with Reynolds’s Garrick Between Tragedy & Comedy, or a tea casket containing three tea caddies, all decorated with theatrical scenes and featuring Garrick. I came away from the RA with the catalogue. It was, by the way, cheaper buying it from the gallery than from Amazon. The exhibition runs until 10 June.
It’s finished now, but there was also a fascinating set of paintings at the National Portrait Gallery exhibition The First Actresses. The catalogue is well worth a read. And it was much cheaper buying it from the gallery than from Amazon.
When we came out of the RA the weather was still pleasant enough to walk to and sit and eat in Green Park, watching a dozen or so young men playing some sort of tag rugby, before walking across to the Old Vic Theatre to watch John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, directed by the remarkably young Jamie Lloyd. I was particularly impressed with Eve Best as the Duchess and Mark Bonnar as Bosola – his Scots accent gave his Jacobean dialogue an interesting difference.
I imagine it’s something to do with the recession, but our seats were upgraded as the circle we were supposed to be in was closed – this has happened to my daughter quite a few times recently. It would seem they’re having trouble filling seats, it runs until the 9th of June so let’s hope the audiences swell.
The weather has been changeable lately, but Sunday afternoon was reasonably nice, and as my daughter returned to university the following day we went for a walk: short, but with a purpose (I do like having a walk with interesting things along or at the end of it rather than walking for the sake of it). Starting off in the Pheasantry Centre car park of Bushy Park we walked through the Woodland Gardens to Hampton Gate.
Initially we walked through an area which has a number of swamp cypress, Taxodium distichum, with some quite impressive pneumatophores; I have recently read that it has been found that in the swamp cypress these are only used for support, rather than for gas exchange as in some other plants.
There is quite a lot of water in Bushy Park; most sources say Hampton Court Palace was always short of water, and so in 1638 Charles I had the Longford River built to bring water 19km from the River Colne; however, English Heritage says ‘The purpose of this expensive undertaking is unknown’. Then, as now, builders could be dodgy, and rather than construct new banks the C17 contractor used those of medieval fields and roadways; this does make for a rather interesting (and rather angular) landscape, but they do leak really badly (and always have), hence a rather extensive area of boggy sallow woodland adjacent to the watercourse. The water is used to supply the water gardens of Hampton Court and Bushy Park, including the Diana Fountain (which apparently depicts Arethusa, not Diana).
There is a small building by Waterhouse Pond, not surprisingly called the Water House, built to contain the machinery to control the flow of water: this pond is in effect a header tank for the water gardens.
From Hampton Gate it’s a very short distance along the main road to Garrick’s Lawn, on the Thames’ bank and on the opposite side of the road from Garrick’s Villa. The latter, which was Garrick’s home, is still shrouded in scaffolding following a major fire in 2008.
Zoffany’s painting of Mr & Mrs Garrick outside their Temple to Shakespeare (which was shown at the Zoffany exhibition) has them at the foot of the steps, she standing on the bottom step (perhaps to disguise her husband’s shortness?), a little boy at the top of the steps, with two dogs nearby. The Thames is to the left, with a view along to an undeveloped Platt’s Eyot; a waterman is by the riverbank, David is apparently about to depart.
Today the Temple sits in Garrick’s Lawn, and the view down the river still has a surprisingly rural look, although Platt’s Eyot has been built on (eyot or ait means small island, commonly used in the River Thames: John Evelyn spelt it eight, Defoe aight). The temple’s continued existence owes more than a little to luck – it was only restored in 1998-99. Garrick had it built in 1755 or 1756 depending on which source you read, then commissioning Louis-François Roubillac to produce a full-length statue of Shakespeare for the interior. Samuel Johnson, as usual, made the most quotable saying about the temple: “Ah, David, it is the leaving of such places that makes a deathbed so terrible.” It is now home to an exhibition of Garrick’s life and career, as well as a replica of the statue (Garrick bequeathed the original to the British Museum), staffed by volunteers and opening from April to October on Sundays from 1400-1700.
After walking back through Bushy Park we drove to Twickenham, passing Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill (open Saturdays to Wednesdays) and the site of Alexander Pope’s villa, had a cup of tea in the tea rooms at Orleans House, and then walked along the river to St Mary’s Church in Twickenham – a rather odd building, not at all to my taste: the tower is medieval ragstone with a redbrick Queen Anne nave built to replace the earlier one which collapsed. It does have a memorial to Alexander Pope inside, and on the exterior north wall, a memorial to Catherine (‘Kitty’) Clive, one of Garrick’s favourite actresses, although they had a rather tempestuous professional relationship. Having developed a close friendship with Horace Walpole he gave her a small house to live in when she retired to Twickenham, known as Little Strawberry Hill or ‘Clive’s Den’. Walpole had an urn decorated with his own memorial (he wasn’t the greatest of poets):
Ye smiles and jests still hover round; | This is mirth’s consecrated ground: | Here liv’d the laughter loving Dame, | A matchless actress, Clive her name. | The comic muse with her retir’d | And shed a tear when she expir’d.