To mark the re-opening of pubs, bars, nightclubs and restaurants on 4 July 2020 following England’s period of lockdown, I bring you five scenes of drinking, each of them featuring at least one woman. Just because I’m like that. So please come with me on my little bar crawl. I can promise you will emerge sober…
First, we’ll join these two women who might be taking a few moments out of their work routine to have a chat and share a drink (probably a soft one, there is nothing to suggest it is alcohol in that beaker). Paul Sandby’s simple style captures so much of their vitality and humanity. A century later might this moment might have been a photograph.
Next we stop by at this inn, where two matriarchs knock back the beer and swill the roast turkey, with their daughters bravely trying to keep up. The innkeeper, bearing a jug of foaming ale, is no doubt delighted. Not quite sure what the cartoonist is trying to tell us but it is odd, or perhaps it isn’t, that gluttony seems to be a fault of 100 per cent of the women in the picture.
Now to my favourite 18th/19th-century artist (and I know some of his work can be problematic) – Thomas Rowlandson. Here he brings us Skating on the Serpentine, which for those not familiar with London topography is a lake in the middle of the green acres of Hyde Park. Over to the right is a little kiosk selling drinks. Those who have taken a tumble may nor may not have been its customers earlier in the day…
By way of contrast next we have the smooth French style of Philippe Mercier. It is easy to imagine this group taking supper in the painted supperboxes at Vauxhall Gardens (I am not saying this is where it is set). The table is replete with sweets and delicacies. The wine flows into elegant glasses. It’s a scene of money, decadence (the women are not respectable) and privilege, pointed up by the token black servant, whose presence acts as a status symbol and whose expression injects a note of cynicism.
To finish off, we have Joseph Highmore’s scene in a coffee house. On the left a woman fends off the advances of a red-suited customer, while centre-stage, the men smoke and expound.
All the images are from the Yale Center for British Art, one of my favourite resources for visuals for this blog. Visit my page of image resources for the Long 18th Century for more ideas on how you can illustrate your own posts.
Note 7 July 2020
Just to clarify: I fully support the lockdown and wish it had been started earlier and been stricter. I can only hope that its end does not mean further avoidable disease and deaths.