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Print - The Original Polka

The Original Polka

  • Object:

    Print

  • Place of origin:

    London (printed and published)

  • Date:

    ca. 1845 (printed and published)

  • Artist/Maker:


    M. & N. Hanhart (printer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Coloured lithograph

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Lady Mary Evans

  • Museum number:

    S.2601-1986

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The polka comes from Bohemia and was first performed in London by Carlotta Grisi and Jules Perrot in 1844. The print shows them performing the polka's characteristic 'hop' step. Soon it stormed the ballrooms and became one of the most popular social dances of the century. Grisi and Perrot's pictures were everywhere, not only on prints, but on ceramics and, as here, on music sheets.
Louis Antoine Jullien, who composed this particular polka, was one of the first star conductors. He studied in Paris, but his tastes were for light rather than classical music. Fleeing from his creditors, he came to London, formed an orchestra and established the first promenade concerts. He was a leading figure in English popular music and played up to his reputation with flamboyant dressing and behaviour. Ruined by the failure of his opera Pietro ii Grande in 1852, he left London and in 1859 returned to Paris, where he was imprisoned for debt. Sadly, he developed a severe mental illness soon afterwards and died in 1860.

Physical description

A couple stand opposite each other holding hands at waist height; the man at the left is in profile, knees bent with his back leg raised off the floor while the girl is half-turned to the viewer, her head tilted and facing front. His hair falls onto his neck and he has a small moustache; his long-skirted reddish brown jacket is belted and trimmed around the skirt with fur, the low V neck revealing the white loose shirt and black knotted cravat; to the back hangs a blue waist-length cloak; his full breeches are red and tuck into knee-high black boots. His partner is dressed in 'East European' dress, with a small square pale blue cap, fur trimmed, with tassel and cockade. Her hair is smoothed down and finishes in two long, thin, beribboned plaits. Her long-sleeved, low-necked, knee-length overdress is pale blue, trimmed with fur and decorated with frogging; beneath is a white calf-length white skirt. Her fitted ankle-length red boots are trimmed with white fur. Surrounding the image and title is an elaborate decorative border.

Place of Origin

London (printed and published)

Date

ca. 1845 (printed and published)

Artist/maker


M. & N. Hanhart (printer)

Materials and Techniques

Coloured lithograph

Dimensions

Height: 324 mm cut down, Width: 240 mm cut down

Object history note

The Original Polka No 1 by Jullien. Illustrated music sheet cover. Coloured lithograph after John Brandard ca. 1845. The print shows Carlotta Grisi and Jules Perrot performing the Polka, which they first danced in London in 1844. The Polka comes from Bohemia and the print shows them performing the polka's characteristic 'hop' step. Before long it was being performed in the ballrooms and it became one of the most enduring social dances of the century. Grisi and Perrot's pictures were everywhere, not only on prints, but on ceramics and, as here, on music sheets.

Historical significance: In the second half of the 19th century, no self-respecting house was without a piano and a flourishing music publishing industry fed the need for new music. The covers were often decorated with lithographed images, which reflect many aspects of Victorian life and culture. Many performers had their images on related music sheets and thus became well-known names to people who might never see them perform.

Descriptive line

The Original Polka No 1 by Jullien. Illustrated music sheet cover. Coloured lithograph after John Brandard ca. 1845.

Materials

Lithographic ink; Colourant; Paper

Techniques

Lithography

Subjects depicted

Dancers

Categories

Entertainment & Leisure; Prints

Collection

Theatre and Performance Collection

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