Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thorpe Water Frolic

The masterwork of Joseph Stannard (1797-1830). The Norwich School of painters lost one its greatest artists with his early death.

The Thorpe Water Frolic was an idea of the wealthy merchant Thomas Harvey from his witnessing water-festivities at Venice while on the Grand tour of Europe. Begun in 1824 the Thorpe Water-Frolic attracted crowds of over 30,000 when the population of Norwich was at that time little more than 10,000. A welcome day of rest for the many weavers of Norwich who often worked in cramped conditions, the Water-frolic was enjoyed as a rare day of recreation in the fresh air.

The division of the social classes was maintained throughout the event with gentry and aristocracy upon the left-bank, and workers to the right-bank of the canvas. Harvey who commissioned the painter Joseph Stannard to record the events of the Water-Frolic can be seen standing centre-left as if wading. Stannard has placed himself in the painting wearing red, shading his eyes and looking towards Harvey.

There appears to be several weather conditions depicted in the bright and busy sky-scape. A storm may be just clearing and better weather arriving. In any event its been suggested that Stannard was influenced by the writings of Berchem and his observations upon light and clouds. Stannard had also traveled to Holland in 1821 and and may well have seen the master-works by Dutch painters such as Ruisdael and Hobbema.

Water frolics held a special interest for Stannard beyond the aesthetics and social. He was a skilled oarsman and owned a prize-winning boat, the Cytherea, a four-oared skiff...It was certainly on view at the frolic of 1824, steered by an urchin and rowed by four youths in a uniform of blue-netted waistcoats, scarlet belts, white trousers and yellow straw hats with a laurel leaf and Cytherea in gold...If the Thorpe water frolics were really great pageants , as the Norwich Mercury suggested, and if the multitudes who attended were all actors, then Stannard played his part thoroughly. The Cytherea in 1825 appeared richly transformed:

'its colour is purple; the inside is adorned with an elegant gilt scroll, which completely encircles it; on the back-board where the coxswain sits, is a beautiful and spirited sea piece, representing a stiff breeze at sea, with vessels sailing in various directions, painted in oils are nearly covered with gilt dolphins.....

(from article by Trevor Fawcett-Roper in Norfolk Archaeology 1976)
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