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Furnishing fabric - Lethe, or Aesop in the Shades

Lethe, or Aesop in the Shades

  • Object:

    Furnishing fabric

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1766 (designed)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Linen and cotton, plate-printed in china blue

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Arthur du Cane

  • Museum number:

    T.75 to B-1914

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This furnishing fabric is decorated with scenes from David Garrick's play Lethe, first performed at Drury Lane Theatre, London, in 1740. The figures here are taken from prints by Gabriel Smith and A. Moseley from 1750, and the textile was probably designed at about the time of the command performance of 1766.

The lady in this scene is accompanied by a young black page-boy. Images such as this were very common in paintings and prints of the period, though they were slightly more unusual on textiles. Many black boy servants were employed, particularly by women, in white households in 18th-century western Europe. But, when they became adults, they were sometimes turned out of their homes and forced to join the ranks of the urban poor. In the 18th century, images of black people were associated with exoticism and luxury, in sharp contrast to the harsh realities of racism that characterised the experience of many black people in Europe.

Place of Origin

England (made)


ca. 1766 (designed)



Materials and Techniques

Linen and cotton, plate-printed in china blue

Object history note

This textile was probably designed about the time of the command performance of 'Lethe' 1766. 'Lethe: or, Esop in the shades'' a comedy, was David Garrick's first play, produced at Drury Lane in April 1740.

Historical context note

Included in the V&A's 1976 exhibition '1776 : a Londoner's View', a display of domestic decorative arts.

Descriptive line

Textile with scenes from Lethe, a play by David Garrick, plate-printed cotton, Britain, ca. 1770.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

King, D, ed. British textile design in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Tokyo, 1980. vol.II, p. 165

Labels and date

Scenes from 'Lethe'
Linen and cotton, plate-printed in blue. Decorated with scenes from Garrick's play 'Lethe', including Kitty Clive as the 'Fair Lady' and Henry Woodward as the 'Fine Gentleman'. The play was first produced at Drury Lane in 1740. Porcelain figures of Kitty Clive and Henry Woodward in this play were made at Bow about 1750. It is probable that the textile was made to commemorate the Command Performance of 23 January 1766. [1992]

Production Note



Linen; Cotton


Weaving; Printing


Images Online; Textiles; Black History


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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