Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Frost Fair on the Thames 1683 #1

There are a number of paintings and etchings of Frost Fairs on the River Thames and elsewhere.  This painting is of the celebrated frost fair which occurred in the winter of 1683–84.   Titled Frost Fair on the Thames, with Old London Bridge in the distanceit was painted by an unknown artist in 1685 and is owned by the Yale Centre for British Art.

I've also found an etching of the same scene - also of unknown origin - but it does identify a number of the subjects in the scene.  You can find more versions at The 1683-4 frost fair

Looking at both the painting and engraving makes me wonder why more people don't paint accounts of contemporaneous events today - they're such wonderful records of both time and place!

Frost fair 1683-4

The temperature dropped severely at the beginning of December 1683.  The River Thames froze and remained frozen for nine weeks until early February 1684.   A road developed - called "Temple Street" between Temple Steps on the north bank of the Thames and Southwark on the south bank.  This road is what is portrayed in both painting and etching.  Booths and stalls developed along Temple Street to serve the people passing to and fro across the frozen river - and doubtless sight-seeing too!

John Evelyn, the diarist wrote, 
Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple, and from several other stairs too and fro, as in the streets; sleds, sliding with skeetes, a bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cooks, tipling and other lewd places, so that it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph, or carnival on the water.London: Portrait of a City. Hudson, Roger (1998). The Folio Society. 
Frost Fair on the Thames, with Old London Bridge in the distance (1685)
unknown artist, 17th century, British;
Formerly attributed to Jan Wyck, ca. 1645-1700, Dutch, active in Britain (from about 1664)

Oil on canvas | 25 1/4 x 30 1/4 inches (64.1 x 76.8 cm)
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
I've taken the liberty of lightening the painting slightly - on the basis I don't believe any artist paints a scene of this sort do that it's dark - even if it has darkened with age.  On the Yale website, there is a fascinating set of images of the painting as it used to be and following treatment.

I also found an engraving of the exact same scene on Wikipedia.  I've cropped a large version of it to show more details included by the artist in the foreground.  Below this is the text at the bottom of the picture which tells you about all the things you can see in the engraving - and the painting! It seems very likely that the painting is based on this engraving.

The National Portrait Gallery identifies William Faithorne (1616 – 1691), English painter and engraver as the probably source of the engraving - he had a shop near Temple Bar.

The Thames Frost Fair, 1683
probably by William Faithorne, published by William Warter
line engraving, circa 1684
15 in. x 18 7/8 in. (380 mm x 480 mm) paper size
Crop of foreground of the Engraving of the Frost Fair 1683
The text at the top states

Exact and lively Mapp
Of Booths and all the varieties of showes and
Humours upon the ICE on the River of
During that memorable Frost in the 35th yeare
of the Reigne of his Sacred Maty
King CHARLES the 2d

With an Alphabetical Explanation of the
most remarkeable Figures

The text at the bottom provides an explanation of the alphabetical annotations
The Temple Staires with People goeing upon the Ice to Temple Street A.
The Duke of Yorke's Coffee house B.
The Tory Booth C.
The Booth with a Phoenix on it and Insured as long as the Foundation Stand D.
The Roast Beefe Booth E.
The halfe way house F.
The Beare garden Shire Booth G.
The Musick Booth H.
The Printing Booth I.
The Lottery Booth K.
The Horne Tavern Booth L.
The Temple garden with Crowds of People looking over the wall M.
The Boat drawne with a Hors N.
The Drum Boat O.
the Boat drawne upon wheeles P.
the Bull baiting Q.
The Chair sliding in the Ring R.
The Boyes Sliding S.
The Nine Pinn Playing T.
The sliding on Scates V.
The sledge drawing Coales from the other side of the Thames W.
The Boyes climbing upon the Tree in the Temple garden to see ye Bull Baiting X.
The Toy Shopps Y.
London Bridge Z.

Source for text: visual inspection, and verified from Bentley's Miscellany, Volume 9 by Charles Dickens, William Harrison Ainsworth, Albert Smith; publisher: Richard Bentley; year: 1841; page 133, footnote 1.
In the background is the Old London Bridge which was started in 1176 and completed in 1212.  Over the years properties were built on top of it (see below an etching of it just three years earlier).  The bridge and its buildings survived the great fire of 1666 due to a fire break at the northern end caused by a previous fire.

Drawing of London Bridge from a 1682 London MapSurveyed by: Morgan, William, d. 1690. Published: London, London Topographical Society, 1904
To the south of the Bridge was a gate where the heads of those executed for treason used to be put on spikes - with the head of William Wallace being the first to appear on the gate, in 1305.  This practice stopped in 1660 - just 25 years before this painting.

The church in the background of the frost fair painting is Southwark Cathedral which lies just to the west of London Bridge.  

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