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.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.