Sunday, May 1, 2016

May 1700s - Vauxhall & Ranelagh & Cremorne Public Pleasure Gardens celebrate May Day

1741 Francis Hayman Country Dances Round a Maypole

Scene painter Francis Hayman's 1st major decorative commission consisted of large paintings for Spring Gardens, Vauxhall. The contract came from Hayman's patron, the entrepreneur Jonathan Tyers (died 1767), who held the lease on Spring Gardens & was responsible for opening an expanded venue to the public in 1732.

This painting was one of 50 supper box pictures at Spring Gardens, Vauxhall. They each formed the back of a supper box, an ornate wooden shelter formed of two side walls & a roof, framing picturesque views through the Gardens, where guests could take supper & light refreshments. Because guests came to look at the garden views as well as the passing visitors, at a designated moment in the evening's entertainment, the canvas paintings were 'let fall" to enclose the diners at the back.  Privacy was also a component of the evening's allure.  The front was left permanently open for the fashionable occupants to see & be seen.

One of the May Day customs that Francis Hayman illustrated was dancing round the May Pole. In England, 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 & literally tried to cut down May Poles in many places. Nowadays May Pole dancing is regarded as a harmless activity for children. The painting's theme of pleasure was in keeping with the spirit of carnival that Tyers promoted at Spring Gardens in Vauxhall.  Not to be outdone, the newer Ranelagh gardens also celebrated May.

1759 Ranelagh Jubilee Ball May

And in the 19C, celebrations of May Day at Britain's public pleasure gardens continued.

Maypole Dance at Cremorne Gardens

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