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The Triumph of Pleasure: Vauxhall Gardens 1729 - 1786

J. S. Muller after S. Wale, The Triumphal Arches, Mr Handels Statue &c. in the South Walk of Vauxhall Gardens in 1751, Private Collection.

Exhibition preview

THIS SUMMER, the Foundling Museum celebrates Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens with the biggest UK exhibition on the Gardens in over forty years. Entitled The Triumph of Pleasure: Vauxhall Gardens 1729 – 1786, it will be on display from May 11 to September 9, 2012.

The twenty first century public appetite for cultural consumption is unquenchable although, in fact, the mass consumption of contemporary art, popular music and entertainment began over 200 years ago in the eighteenth century.

In 1729 and 1739, two London institutions changed the face of British art forever – Vauxhall 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.

Ensuring the success of the two institutions both men enlisted the help of two of the greatest artists of the age, painter and engraver William Hogarth and composer George Frideric Handel.

The Foundling Hospital became the premiere venue for London’s polite society to combine culture with philanthropy whereas Vauxhall Gardens was a place to enjoy contemporary music and art, spectacular design, al fresco dining, beautiful gardens and pavilions and people watching.

The Triumph of Pleasure: Vauxhall Gardens 1729 -1786, curated by David Coke, will explore how the Gardens provided Londoners with an escape from the filth and noise of London; a place for up to 100,000 visitors a year to forget their everyday cares.

The exhibition will be divided into the sensory themes of sights, sounds, tastes, smells and feelings and will draw from the collections of private lenders, major museums and galleries across the country.

Original works by Canaletto, Thomas Gainsborough, François Roubiliac and Thomas Rowlandson will be displayed alongside one of the only surviving supper box paintings by Francis Hayman.

Manuscripts and song sheets of works by George Frideric Handel, Thomas Arne and J.C. Bach will be on display alongside contemporary engravings and other objects associated with the Gardens and with the Foundling Hospital.

This includes an identifying token, a 1737 Vauxhall Garden season ticket left by a mother with the baby she abandoned at the Foundling Hospital. The token was a means by which she could identify her child, should she ever return to reclaim him or her.

George Frideric Handel, terracotta bust by Louis François Roubiliac.

Visitors will also see the only solid gold perpetual pass to the Gardens ever issued, given to William Hogarth by Jonathan Tyers in recognition of the artist’s support. The exhibition is also the first time that François Roubiliac’s three portrait busts of William Hogarth, George Frideric Handel and Jonathan Tyers will be displayed together.

Curator David Coke explains: “Although Vauxhall Gardens is a vital and fascinating feature of the history of London, this exhibition will be the first London show ever devoted entirely to the Gardens.

“Vauxhall Gardens under its great entrepreneur Jonathan Tyers revolutionised many aspects of our lives, especially the way we socialise and enjoy our entertainments; without Vauxhall, modern art and music would be quite different, and aspects of our lives that we take for granted – street lighting, policing, mass catering, even marketing and PR – would have taken much longer to develop.

“This exhibition will explore the reasons why Vauxhall succeeded above all its competitors, why it lasted for two centuries, from the Restoration of Charles II until well into Victoria’s reign, why it was so widely copied, not only around the UK, but in America, Russia, Australia and New Zealand, and why so many of us know of it today, even 150 years after its ‘last night forever’, 25 July 1859.”

Vauxhall Gardens was an all-embracing sensual experience, becoming an international byword for pleasure and now, over 200 years later, visitors to The Triumph of Pleasure: Vauxhall Gardens 1729 -1786 at the Foundling Museum can experience the sights, sounds and tastes of the Gardens once more.

The exhibition, open during the Gardens original season of May to September, is supported by a series of specially commissioned concerts, talks and family activities.

Admission: £7.50, £5 concessions, children and Foundling Friends free.

Times: Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm, Sunday 11am to 5pm, closed on Mondays.

Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1AZ

Tel: 020 7841 3614