Catalogue entry

T00524 The See-Saw c. 1742

Oil on canvas 1390×2415 (54 3/4×95)
Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1962
PROVENANCE Commissioned by Jonathan Tyers for Vauxhall Gardens c. 1740, and in situ there before February 1744; probably removed before 1826;...; Earl of Lonsdale, Lowther Castle sale, Maple & Co. 30 April 1947 (1897 as English School, 18th Century) bt A. Carysforth of Blackburn; sold by him to Ewart Bradshaw of Grey Flowers, Preston, Lancs., and bt back from his widow by Carysforth; sold to Appleby Bros by 1960, from whom bt by the Friends of the Tate Gallery
EXHIBITED Francis Hayman RA, University Art Gallery, Nottingham 1960 (not in cat.); Rococo Art and Design in Hogarth's England, Victoria and Albert Museum 1984 (F25, repr. p.92); Francis Hayman, Kenwood 1987 (32, repr.)
ENGRAVED Line engraving (in reverse) by L. Truchy, pub. 1 Feb. 1743, repr. ‘D. Coke, The MusesBower: Vauxhall Gardens 1728–86, exh. cat. Gainsborough's House, Sudbury 1978, fig.24
LITERATURE Anon., A Description of Vauxhall Gardens, 1762, p. 37; The Ambulator; or, the Stranger's Companion in a Tour Round London, 1774, p. 188, 1807, p. 293; A Brief Historical and Descriptive Account of the Royal Gardens, Vauxhall, 1822, p.37; J.G. Southworth, Vauxhall Gardens, New York 1941, p. 41; Lawrence Gowing, ‘Hogarth, Hayman and the Vauxhall Decorations’, Burlington Magazine, XCV, 1953, pp.10, 15, no.41, fig.20; W.S. Scott, Green Retreats: The Story of Vauxhall Gardens 1661–1859, 1955, p.25; S.A. Henry, ‘A Further Note on the Engravings and Oil paintings of Francis Hayman in Vauxhall Gardens’, Burlington Magazine, c, 1958, p.439; Connoisseur, CXLVI, 1960, advert. suppl., pl.xiii; A. Bury, ‘Hayman and Vauxhall’, Connoisseur, CXLVII, 1961, p.133; Gazelle des Beaux-Arts, 1963, suppl. no.1129, p.50, fig.187; M. Levey, Rococo to Revolution: Major Trends in Eighteenth Century Painting, 1966, p.86, p.51; T.J. Edelstein and Brian Allen, Vauxhall Gardens, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 1983, pp.29, 47; Allen 1984, pp.270, 282, 288, pl.296; Allen 1987, pp.108–11, fig.32

The painting is one of fewer than a dozen surviving panels painted by Hayman and assistants c. 1738–60 to decorate Vauxhall Gardens. It is first recorded in Truchy's engraving of 1 February 1743/4, which was published with the text:

F.Hayman Pinx. L. Truchy sculp. from the Original Painting in Vaux-hall Garden

See-Saw
Where at the top of her advent'rous Flight.
The frolick Damsel tumbles from her Height:
Tho her Warm Blush bespeaks a present Pain
It soon goes Off - she falls to rise again;
But when the Nymph with Prudence unprepar'd,
By pleasure sway'd - forsakes her Honours Guard:
That slip once made, no Wisdom can restore
She falls indeed! - and falls to rise no more.

By the 1740s the Gardens boasted over fifty painted panels, most of them fitted into the back of the supper boxes which surrounded the Grove, the focal point of the garden around the orchestra pavilion. Most of them were designed and at least partly painted by Hayman, although the involvement of Hogarth and Gravelot, in a design capacity, and of Monamy, who contributed four sea-pieces, is also recorded. ‘The See-Saw’ is among the better preserved and seems to have been painted largely by Hayman himself, although some of its motifs are adapted from Gravelot's engraving See-sawing, one of a series entitled Jeux d' Enfants, published in the late 1730s. From various descriptions (see Gowing 1953) it appears to have graced a box on the south side of the Grove, near Roubiliac's famous statue of Handel.
By far the greater part of the paintings depicted popular pastimes, games and leisure activities, interspersed with theatrical, historical and genre subjects. Their chief purpose was decorative, but at the same time, as the verses attached to the set of engravings after some of the pictures make clear, they often contained a certain emblematic element that contrived to be both mildly titillating and moralising, which contributed to their interest (see Edelstein and Allen, p.25). Thus ‘The See-Saw’ also points to the dangers inherent in frivolous pursuits: the young people have built their makeshift toy not in an arcadian glade, but on a building site, between a solid, square building under construction, and a ruined tower or windmill, which in themselves represent stability and the lack of it. The seemingly light-hearted scene is actually the prelude to a fight, for an outraged youth rushes in from the right with the clear intention of defending an all-too-yielding girl from the excessive attentions of the beribboned fop on the opposite side, while the young people in the middle throw up their hands in horror at the impending fracas.

The painting must have been removed from Vauxhall Gardens sometime before 1826, as it is not included in the list of decorations published by Thomas Allen, History and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth, 1826, pp.365–6, nor in the Vauxhall Gardens sale of 12 October 1841.


Published in:
Elizabeth Einberg and Judy Egerton, The Age of Hogarth: British Painters Born 1675-1709, Tate Gallery Collections, II, London 1988