Exhibition | The Triumph of Pleasure: Vauxhall Gardens

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on May 25, 2012

From The Foundling Museum:

The Triumph of Pleasure: Vauxhall Gardens 1729 — 1786
The Foundling Museum, London, 11 May — 9 September 2012

Curated by David Coke

‘Vauxhall Gardens showing the Grand Walk at the entrance of the Garden and the Orchestra with the Musick Playing’, print published in London, 1751

The twenty-first-century public appetite for cultural consumption is unquenchable; but unbeknown to many, mass consumption of contemporary art, popular music and entertainment began over 200 years ago. In 1729 and 1739 two London institutions changed the face of British art forever, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens under the management of Jonathan Tyers and the Foundling Hospital for abandoned babies and England’s first public art gallery established by Thomas Coram. To ensure the success of the two institutions both men enlisted the help of two great artists of the age, painter and engraver William Hogarth and composer George Frideric Handel.

The Foundling Hospital became the premier venue for London’s polite society to combine socialising and culture with philanthropy whereas Vauxhall Gardens was a place to enjoy contemporary music and art, spectacular design, al fresco dining, beautiful gardens and supper boxes from which to see and be seen. The Triumph of Pleasure: Vauxhall Gardens 1729 – 1786 will explore the Gardens, which for its visitors was an escape from daily realities and a re-affirmation of all the good things that life had to offer.

Drawing from the collections of major museums and galleries across the country, The Triumph of Pleasure: Vauxhall Gardens 1729 – 1786 will display works by Hogarth, Canaletto, Hayman, Rowlandson and Gainsborough. Visitors can view original manuscripts and song sheets which will be supported by a series of specially commissioned concerts. One of the last surviving supper box paintings will be on display alongside objects associated with the Gardens and the Foundling Hospital. This will include an identifying token left by a mother with the baby she left at the Foundling Hospital. This token is a copper 1737 Vauxhall Garden season ticket, attributed to Hogarth. The exhibition will also be the first time François Roubiliac’s three terracotta portrait busts of William Hogarth, George Frideric Handel and Jonathan Tyers have been seen together.

Vauxhall Gardens was an all-embracing sensual experience, becoming an international byword for pleasure and now, over 200 years later, visitors to the Foundling Museum can experience the sights, sounds and tastes of the Gardens once more.

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David Coke, the exhibition’s curator and co-author of Vauxhall Gardens: A History (Yale UP, 2011), offers a preview of the show with his article “Vauxhall Gardens: Patriotism and Pleasure,” in this month’s issue of History Today 62 (May 2012). Also, see Coke’s own immensely useful website for the gardens (this last noted added 1 June 2012).

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