Sunday, May 20, 2012

Vauxhall Gardens on a Punch Bowl, c 1800

Sunday, May 20, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

For nearly 200 years, the pleasure gardens of Vauxhall offered Londoners every kind of entertainment, from sublime orchestral music to the spectacle of a horse and rider lifted into the sky by a hot-air balloon. There was dining, dancing, and strolling beneath lighted trees, fireworks and flirtations and masquerades. The leafy gardens offered a respite from the city's heat as well as scores of shadowy bowers for amorous assignations.

I've always been fascinated by Vauxhall, and I've set scenes in several of my books beneath the famous twinkling lights. When I recently came across this punch bowl (part of the current Uncorked! exhibition at Winthertur Museum), I felt like I'd found an old friend. Painted on one side of the bowl is a view of the gardens, reproducing a c 1751 print by John Bowles after Samuel Wale, right. (Click on the pictures to see the detail.)

But it was an old friend in an exotic costume. Like other porcelain pieces made in China for export to the Western market, the Jingdezhen artists interpreted and adapted the original English artwork to their own artistic sensibilities. The colors are more vibrant, the trees stylized, and the musicians' pavilions have been transformed with the black roofs and red pillars of Chinese architecture. While the English print emphasises the elegance and gentility of Vauxhall, the punch bowl version of the same scene somehow seems to capture more of the Garden's excitement.

I've collected many more images from Vauxhall – including tickets, broadsides, prints, and drawings – on a special board for our Pinterest page. (I did say I was fascinated by the pleasure gardens, didn't I?) And if you're fortunate enough to visit London this summer, be sure to visit this exhibition at the Foundling Museum.

Above: Punch bowl showing Vauxhall Gardens and London Foundling Hospital. Jingdezhen, China, c1800. Porcelain. Winterthur Museum.
Below: Vauxhall Gardens, shewing the Grand Walk, at the entrance of the Gardens and the Orchestra with the Musick Playing. Published by John Bowles after drawings by Samuel Wale, 1751. Museum of London.


intheologus said...

That's a surprise. I visited my local art gallery on Sunday for a screening of the documentary Sense and Sensation by John Brewer. It included a visit to what remains of Vauxhall garden in London, a rather non-descript grassy patch by a railway line. Then, as a treat, he visited a London Museum that held in its collection a scale model of the gardens recreated from illustrations. It was an instructive documentary, although I could not tell you what museum it was from my memory.

David Coke said...

The sacale model was made for the 1984 Rococo exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, and it still belongs to them, but, until 9 September 2012, it's included in the Vauxhall Gardens exhibition at the FOundling Museum in Brunswick Square in London, along with the Canaletto of Vauxhall.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thank you both! Here's a direct link to the scale model of Vauxhall as shown on the V&A website:

Chris Woodyard said...

What a delightful model--thanks for the link, Susan! Love the punchbowl too--the exploding green of the trees and the red rococo frame suggest fireworks.

bluffkinghal said...

What a gorgeous piece of history. Really love the colours.

Rachel Knowles said...

Thank you so much for the link to the model. I saw this years ago at the V&A and went back to look for it and it was gone! I look forward to visiting it in its new temporary home this summer.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Years ago my wife worked in a building next to the site of the Vauxhall Gardens, which is indeed now a nondescript patch of grass. She was involved in a plan to revive the gardens in contemporary form, but the scheme didn't get off the ground in spite of some good promises of corporate sponsorship. More recently someone set up a tethered hot-air balloon there, so people could go on balloon ascents again, but that too has now gone.

Hels said...

I love porcelain in its own right and I love the connection to Vauxhall Gardens even more. Thanks for the link


Michael Robinson said...

You may enjoy taking a look at John Barrell's recent essay /review in the TLS of: David Coke and Alan Borg, Vauxhall Gardens A history. Yale University Press. £55 (US $95).

scott davidson said...
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