Southwark Fair

When the Rev. Daniel Lysons wrote his historical account of towns, villages and hamlets within twelve miles of the capital, The Environs of London, which was published in 1796, he mentioned the fact that "there are some valuable pictures at Valentines, particularly the original of Hogarth's Southwark Fair..." (Vol.IV p.87)

William Hogarth (1697-1764) was an English painter and engraver who is best known today for his pictures of morality, such as A Rake's Progress (series of 8 pictures painted 1733-5) or Gin Lane and Beer Street (1751). He studied under Sir James Thornhill, whose daughter he married after eloping with her in 1729. It must have been at about that time that he took the commission from Sir Richard Child for a portrait of his family at Wanstead, possibly to commemorate his silver wedding anniversary on 22nd April 1728.

Another early patron of Hogarth was Mary Edwards, the daughter of Francis Edwards of Welham whose fortune she inherited in 1728, giving her an annual income of £50,000. She fell in love with the dashing Lord Anne Hamilton (named after his godmother, Queen Anne). They married furtively in 1731 and he set about spending her fortune. She commissioned Hogarth to paint her family on the terrace of their house in Kensington in 1733. In 1734 she bought Southwark Fair, six years later he painted her portrait (one of his finest) and in 1742 she commissioned Taste a la Mode. It is likely that she influenced Hogarth to paint Marriage a la Mode, though she died in 1743 before the series was completed.

Southwark Fair, like many of Hogarth's pictures, was sold as an engraved print and this and the original painting were unveiled at the same time, December 1733. Like so many of Hogarth's works it is a complex picture, full of topical references, and with a wider meaning. Here we have a crowd of the lowest classes at the Fair, wearing shoddy clothes. In the centre, a drummeress advertises a show booth for travelling actors. Their play will offer the crowd a brief moment of escape, creating an illusion and allowing them to live out their dreams. The open countryside and blue sky glimpsed through the buildings indicate loftier ideals and a better way of life. Apparently the painting was originally quite beautiful but sadly it was damaged and retouched by an unskilled hand at some time.

It is now owned by the Cincinnati Art Museum which has provided the following provenance:

  • Owned by Mary Edwards, by 1742
  • D.Cameron, 1796-97
  • T.Johnes, 1807
  • Henry Pelham, 4th Duke of Newcastle,
  • through his family, etc.

A lithograph of Southwark Fair was purchased by the Valentines Mansion Trust and now hangs in the Mansion, in the Raymond Room.

However, they have also provided the text of a letter which came to light in 1997. This was headed: London, Nov. 11th 1797 and explained that the picture had just come up for sale and could be had for 600 guineas (£630). The letter goes on to say that "about 30 or 40 years ago Sir Charles Raymond gave 200 guineas for the picture, when Hogarth's Marriage a la Mode sold for only £120." Raymond was, of course, the owner of Valentines, so it seems that Southwark Fair may have hung in Valentines from the 1760s until it was sold in 1797 after the death of Donald Cameron. It may be worth adding that the Child Family painting by Hogarth fetched the highest price of all the paintings when the contents of Wanstead House were auctioned in 1822. It was purchased by an agent on behalf of the family, for £147.