I often get asked to lecture about gardens and landscapes in art, and although I like talking about pictures that people probably don’t know, I always like to include one that everybody thinks they know very well but actually probably don’t.
As you will probably have gathered it’s Gainsborough’s famous double portrait Mr & Mrs Andrews. Despite its popularity I think there still a lot of things that viewers don’t always notice, and certainly the background story to the painting is usually something of a surprise.
We think our public parks are suffering from neglect but even after years of austerity and poor maintenance they haven’t quite fallen into the same state of decay as the well-known public space being described here in a book named Gaslight and Daylight, published in 1859 by George Augustus Sala, a friend of Charles Dickens and a contributor to his magazines.
“There was no grass, but there was a feculent, colourless vegetation like mildewed thatch upon a half-burnt cottage. There were no gravel-walks, but there were sinuous gravelly channels and patches, as if the cankerous earth had the mange. There were rank weeds heavy with soot. There were blighted shrubs like beggars’ staves or paralytic hop-poles…on their withered branches, strange fruits- battered hats of antediluvian shape, and oxidised saucepan lids… The surrounding railings, rusty, bent, and twisted as they were, were few and far between. The poor of the neighbourhood tore them out by night, to make pokers. In the centre, gloomy, grimy, rusty, was the Statue – more hideous (if such a thing may be) than the George the Fourth enormity in Trafalgar Square – more awful than the statue of the Commendatore in Don Giovanni.”
That’s a bit of a difference from this painting of the same place just a few decades earlier! You might be surprised to find out where it was.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
We all have our favourite gardening books, whether for the quality of the illustrations, -usually the first thing one notices when flicking through – the quality of the writing – which takes more time to appreciate or perhaps for the style and approach the author takes. My favourite scores highly on all three counts, and I wasn’t surprised to find it was also a favourite of several other people when I ran a course about garden writing recently. Published in 1977 and in print ever since it’s The Pleasure Garden by Anne Scott-James and Osbert Lancaster, and if you haven’t read it I hope by the time you’ve finished this post you’ll rush out and buy it immediately.
I’m amazed to think that the blog has now been running for 6 years, and like all 6 year olds it’s still growing. This year there have been about 55,000 hits, made by about 26,000 visitors. I’m also amazed that this is the 310th post which means I’ve probably written well over six hundred thousand words of wisdom. Be warned that there almost as many more in the pipeline – some just a title, others a series of notes or images, while a few are nearing completion. Ideas are always welcome for other possibilities, especially if they are offbeat, slightly quirky or humorous.
As always, thank you for the nice comments & for telling your friends about the blog. Remind them it’s easy to sign up just by going to the very bottom of any post and adding their email address and it will appear, as if by magic, every Saturday morning in time for breakfast.