The Joyous Neighbourhood of Covent Garden A Literary Souvenir of the Tavistock Hotel, Done in Celebration of its Hundredth Anniversary

Pascoe, Charles Eyre





SIR PETER LELY first brought it in repute. In the angle of the Piazza which now forms a part of the Tavistock Hotel, lived this successorof Vandyck in England, " the most capital painter " of the reign of Charles II. He, too, came from across the seas-from the Hague, where his father, one Vander Vaas, a captain of foot, was born in a perfumer's shop, " at the sign of the Lily." He received the appellation of Captain du Lys (Anglicised) Lely, which later became the proper name of the son. Those who would become acquainted with the works of Lely will find his most famous examples hanging in the State Bed-room of William III. at Hampton Court Palace. The collection of pictures known as the Beauties of Charles II.'s Court is by him. He was the ladies' painter, and not all of his sitters showed the self-abasement of Crom-


well. " Mr. Lely," said he (so at least the story runs), "I desire you will use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts, and everything as you see; otherwise I never will pay a farthing for it." Lely was somewhat prone to gratify the vanity of the ladies who sat to him. To this failing, by the way, Bernard Lens (the engraver, who also lived in Covent Garden,) showed the stouter front. He was drawing a lady's picture in the dress of the Queen of Scots. " But, Mr. Lens," said the lady, "you have not made me like the Queen of Scots." " No, madam," replied Lens: "if God Almighty had made your ladyship like her, I would." The reader must go to the palace at Hampton Court to study the best of Lely's portraits. His pictures of Lady Bellasys; Frances Stewart, Duchess of Richmond; Anne Hyde, Duchess of York; Louise, Duchess of Portsmouth; Barbara, Duchess of Cleveland; the Countess of Grammont and the other ladies of Charles II.'s court, are accounted to-day among the art-treasures of the nation.[1] 

At the corner house in the Great Piazza Sir Peter Lely lived, and there kept up somewhat of the

luxurious style and habits of Vandyck, whose manner, by the way, he copied in more ways than one. "To see," exclaims the inquisitive and thrifty Pepys, "in what pomp his table is laid for himself to go to dinner! He showed me Lady Castlemaine's portrait, which is a most blessed picture, and one that I must have a copy of." We


wonder whether the curious little gentleman ever secured that copy?

In the house in the north-east angle, next to what was till lately "The Bedford" ("with a garden going back to Bow Street :" the cultivation of flowers was his hobby) another painter of portraits, Sir Godfrey Kneller, resided for many years; one of the vainest of men, of whom many stories are related. Pope, who used to visit him here, was accustomed to say that there was no flattery so gross but he would swallow it. " Sir Godfrey, I believe if the Almighty had had your assistance," said Mr. Pope one day, " the world would have been formed more


perfect." "'Fore God, sir," replied Kneller, laying his hand upon the poet's deformed shoulder; " I believe so "-an answer which was less impious perhaps than the question that gave rise to it. " Where he [Sir Godfrey Kneller] offered one picture to fame," says Horace Walpole, " he sacrificed twenty to lucre; and he met with customers of so little judgment, that they were fond of being painted by a man who would gladly have disowned his works the moment they were paid for." Indeed, so hasty and rapacious was Kneller that he used to send away the ladies who sate to him, as soon as he had sketched their faces, and to paint the figure and hands from his housemaid. He left (it is said) 500 portraits unfinished, for his customers proved less ready to pay than to sit. Several of his works are at Hampton Court, the best known being the pictures in the King's Presence Chamber, the Beauties of the Court of William and Mary, known as the " Hampton Court Beauties." This name was given them from their being placed in this Palace by Queen Mary, and also in order to distinguish them from Lely's Beauties of Charles I.'s Court, formerly at Windsor, and thence called " The Windsor Beauties."

Another painter of note, "the successor of Verrio, and the rival of Laguerre in the decoration of our palaces and public buildings," Sir James Thornhill, was resident for some years in the Great Piazza. The house where he lived subsequently became part of the Tavistock Breakfast Rooms. In this house, after the refusal of the government to entertain his proposal for building a Royal Academy at back of the King's Mews at Charing Cross (the place which was later its home for many years), he opened an academy for the instruction of pupils in drawing. From the Piazza studios, indeed, the first practical schemes for a national academy emanated: in the original instance with Sir Godfrey Kneller, and a few years later, with Sir James Thornhill. The best known works of this painter are the decoration of the Inner Dome of St. Paul's Cathedral; that of the Great Hall of the Royal Naval College (formerly the Royal Hospital) at Greenwich; and of the King's Rooms at Hampton Court Palace.

That great and original genius, Hogarth (he married Sir James Thornhill's daughter), was another frequenter of the Piazza studios. His famous series of pictures,


" Marriage a la Mode," were first exhibited in the house where his father-in-law had lived, and which, as we have mentioned, later became part of the present Tavistock Hotel. It was in 1750 the "Marriage a la Mode " series were disposed of by auction. There were only two competitors for this work, now in the National Gallery. A bid of £ 110 (which the purchaser, Mr. Lane, of Hillingdon, near Uxbridge, generously made guineas), secured possession of the six, the frames enclosing which, it was stated, with delicious irony, were valued at four guineas each! These six chef-d'oeuvres of Hogarth's pencil were, therefore, valued by the public of little more than a century ago at exactly one hundred times less than the sum which was given a few years ago for a single portrait by one of his most eminent contemporaries. In 1797, Mr. Angerstein bought the "Marriage a la Mode" for £ 1,000. We wonder what it would fetch now, if offered to the public at Christie's? In the rooms where these pictures were exhibited Richard Wilson afterwards lived; poor Wilson, who painted his grandest landscapes in vain. There is a letter extant written by Wilson to West (subsequently President


of the Royal Academy), requesting him to purchase some of his painting tools, and a large press or case for oils and colours (together with a representation of the Piazza), which had been the property of Sir James Thornhill. Wilson was unthrifty, and fond of the bottle. The circumstances of his later life were painful enough. With extreme difficulty paying the rent of a single room, and finding it hard case to provide the cost of his painting materials, he died, neglected and forgotten, at a little village in Denbighshire. His fame is now so secure that the sale in London of a good example from his pencil would attract purchasers from all parts of the kingdom. With the death of Wilson, the art associations of the Piazza came to an end. Henceforth the spot, memorable as the birthplace and nursery of the English School of Painting, became dedicated to the fun and frolic of tavern life.


[1] "No more appropriate place could have been selected. It is a real delight to sit in the window-sill here, before the tramping crowds have invaded the quiet, and contemplate these charming portraits with Pepy's 'Diary' or Grammont's ' Memoirs' in one's hand ; or, better still, Mrs. Jameson's 'Beauties of Charles II.' One can imagine one's self for a moment transported into that mixed society of frail, but lovely and interesting women-' the professional beauties ' of the time.'La Duchesse d'York,' says Hamilton in his ' Memoires de Grammont,' 'voulut avoir les portraits des plus belles personnes de la Cour. Lely les peignit; il emploia tout son art dans l'execution. Il ne pouvait travailler a de plus beaux sujets. Chaque portrait parut etre un chef-d'ceuvre.' "It must be confessed that he has succeeded in giving that voluptuous expression of blended drowsiness and sweetness, and that air of tender languishment which are so much in harmony with the characters of these beautiful and charming creatures. Their 'night-gowns fastened with a single pin,' and the ' sleepy eye that spoke the melting soul,' would have sufficiently told us their history if the memoir writers had failed to supply it."---Hampton Court Palace, ERNEST LAW.