Country Dances Round a Maypole thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
British Galleries, Room 52, The George Levy Gallery

Country Dances Round a Maypole

Oil Painting
1741-1742 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Object Type
This painting was one of 50 supper box pictures at Spring Gardens, Vauxhall. They each formed the back of one `arbour' or supper box, an ornate wooden shelter formed of two side walls and a roof, framing picturesque views through the Gardens, where guests could take supper. At a certain moment in the evening's entertainment, the paintings were `let fall' to enclose the diners at the back. The front was left permanently open for the fashionable occupants to view and be viewed.

Subjects Depicted
One of the May Day customs that Francis Hayman illustrated was dancing round the May Pole. This custom still persists, although the days when it was a welcome sight on most village greens have long gone. The Puritans perceived it as an immoral activity and literally tried to cut down May Poles in many places. Nowadays May Pole dancing is regarded as a harmless activity for children, in the same tradition as Morris dancing. The painting's theme of pleasure was in keeping with the spirit of carnival at Spring Gardens in Vauxhall. Here, however, it is depicted with an emphasis on refinement rather than bawdiness.

People
Francis Hayman began as a scene painter, then turned to portraiture. His first major decorative commission consisted of these large paintings at Spring Gardens, Vauxhall. The commission came from Hayman's patron, the entrepreneur Jonathan Tyers (died 1767), who held the lease on Spring Gardens and was responsible for opening them to the public in 1732.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
oil on canvas
Brief Description
Francis Hayman (1707/8-1776), Decorative painting for a supper-box at Vauxhall Gardens, London: "Country Dancers Round a Maypole"
Physical Description
Oil painting
Dimensions
  • Unframed height: 136cm
  • Width: 214.7cm
Dimensions checked: Measured; 14/01/1999 by LM/NC 12cms have been added ie 6cm each side to allow for framing
Style
Gallery Label
British Galleries: Supper boxes, rather like boxes at the theatre, provided private space for visitors. The paintings of rustic amusements and children's games were in keeping with the music and dancing that the Gardens offered. The use of them at Vauxhall was a novelty, bringing the refinement of art to a place of popular entertainment.(27/03/2003)
Object history
Purchased, 1986

Probably Vauxhall sale by Ventom and Hughes, 12 October 1841 (lot 195, 'Merry making' with numerous figures by Hayman...) evidently bought by F. Gye, whose initials appear on the back of the canvas. Fredrick Gye; Christie's, 9 July 1859 (lot 103). W. H. Forman; Sotheby's, 27 June 1899 (lot 85, as by Hogarth, unsold) and thence by descent to Major A.S.C. Brown; Christie's, 21 November 1986 (lot 67).
Historical context
This painting is one of seven in the V&A by Francis Hayman which relate to Hayman's work for the Vauxhall Gardens. See 'Historical Context' note on Museum Number P.12-1947 [May Day or The Milkmaid's Garland] for information about Hayman and the Vauxhall Gardens, from Brian Allen, Francis Hayman, Published in association with English Heritage (the Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood) and Yale Center for British Art by Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1987, Page 107-9.
Summary
Object Type
This painting was one of 50 supper box pictures at Spring Gardens, Vauxhall. They each formed the back of one `arbour' or supper box, an ornate wooden shelter formed of two side walls and a roof, framing picturesque views through the Gardens, where guests could take supper. At a certain moment in the evening's entertainment, the paintings were `let fall' to enclose the diners at the back. The front was left permanently open for the fashionable occupants to view and be viewed.

Subjects Depicted
One of the May Day customs that Francis Hayman illustrated was dancing round the May Pole. This custom still persists, although the days when it was a welcome sight on most village greens have long gone. The Puritans perceived it as an immoral activity and literally tried to cut down May Poles in many places. Nowadays May Pole dancing is regarded as a harmless activity for children, in the same tradition as Morris dancing. The painting's theme of pleasure was in keeping with the spirit of carnival at Spring Gardens in Vauxhall. Here, however, it is depicted with an emphasis on refinement rather than bawdiness.

People
Francis Hayman began as a scene painter, then turned to portraiture. His first major decorative commission consisted of these large paintings at Spring Gardens, Vauxhall. The commission came from Hayman's patron, the entrepreneur Jonathan Tyers (died 1767), who held the lease on Spring Gardens and was responsible for opening them to the public in 1732.
Associated Objects
Bibliographic References
  • Brian Allen, Francis Hayman, Published in association with English Heritage (the Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood) and Yale Center for British Art by Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1987; including the following entries: Checklist of Paintings, Drawings, Book Illustrations and Prints", pages 171-193: Decorative Paintings for Vauxhall Gardens, pages 180-182, numbers 171-217: "The following list consists of the supper box paintings designed by Hayman and others and executed by Hayman with his studio assistants c.1741-2. The later paintings in the Prince of Wales's Pavilion and in the annexe to the Rotunda have been listed under HISTORY PAINTINGS." Of the 47 works listed by Brian Allen, about 15 survive, of which 7 are in the V&A: No.173 - [then "Untraced"] Museum number E.879-1994] No.179 - Museum number P.70-1986 No.191 - Museum number P.13-1947 (Also Allen, cat. no. 33, p.111-112) No.196 - Museum number P.29-1954 No.200 - Museum number P.69-1986 No.205 - Museum number P.68-1986 No.208 - Museum number P.12-1947 (Also Allen, cat. no. 30, p.109-110) This painting is no.179
  • Vauxhall Gardens, Yale Center for British Art, 1983, pp.25-35
  • Brian Allen, "Francis Hayman and the Supper-Box Paintings for Vauxhall Gardens", in Charles Hind, ed. The Rococo in England, 1986, pp.113-134.
  • For a fuller bibliography see catalogue to Christie's London, Important English Pictures, Friday 21 November 1986, cat. 65.
  • Lawrence Gowing, Hogarth, Hayman, and the Vauxhall Decorations, in The Burlington Magazine, XCV, January 1953, pp.4-19. DECORATIONS RECORDED AT THE GARDENS A. The Supper Boxes "... The Grove is bounded by gravel walks, and a considerable number of pavilions or alcoves, ornamented with paintings from the designs of Mr Hayman and Mr. Hogarth, on subjects admirably adapted to the place..." (The Ambulator, 1774, p.181)*. These alcoves, the supper boxes, extended along the north side of the Grove, the east and the south, from which a further short row ran southward. The boxes and their decorations are listed in... The Ambulator in this order; the same order, and the titles given by The Ambulator will be followed here. * The Ambulator; or, the Stranger's Companion in a tour Round London... comprehending Catalogues of the Pictures by Eminent Artists. London (Bew) [1774], p.180 ff., [2nd edition, 1782], p.193 ff. One of many lists of the pictures, printed in guides. This is the fullest of these guides. [From section 1 of 5 areas of Vauxhall described by Gowing following The Ambulator] [Acquired by the V&A in 1986, museum number P.70-1986]. "9 '9. The country dancers round the Maypole.' (Fig.26.) Possibly 1841 sale, lot 195, '"Merry Making" with numerous figures by Hayman', 58 x 96 in (£1.12.0) The back is inscribed 'F.G. (Gye) 1842'.... Now in the collection of Major A. S. C. Browne at Callaly Castle; 53 ½ x 84 ½ in. The design is characteristic of Hayman's earlier Vauxhall phase (Blind Man's Buff shows many similar features), and the execution of the figures, though coarse, is not far from his style. Much retouched; in the present state of the picture only a few of the heads, notably those in the shadow at the back of the group, are recognisable as by Hayman himself. The landscape-representing the ancient village church and not, as appears at first sight, a dissenter's chapel - is clearly the work of an assistant."
Collection
Accession Number
P.70-1986

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record createdMarch 27, 2003
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