Exhibition catalogue text

Catalogue entry from British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection


10 The Author and his Reader; A Frontispiece to 'The Tatler' 1759

Pencil and grey wash on laid paper 13.5 x 9 (5 1/4 x 3 1/2)
Inscribed bottom left in grey ink 'F.HAYMAN'


This drawing is one of four illustrations made by Hayman as frontispieces for a new 1759 edition (in four volumes) of The Tatler, Or The Lucubrations of Isaac Bickerstaffe, Esq. The Tatler was a periodical started in 1709 and edited by Richard Steele, who took on the name of Bickerstaffe, and it appeared three times a week until January 1711. Engraved by Charles Grignion (1717-1810) for volume I, this design takes its inspiration from Steele's words in the original dedication to the Wrst volume: 'to expose the false arts of life, to pull off the disguises of cunning, vanity, and affectation, and to recommend a general simplicity in our dress, our discourse, and our behaviour', as well as those in the Wrst issue, where he wrote that the 'end and purpose' of his paper was to instruct 'Gentlemen, for the most part ... persons of strong zeal, and weak intellects' and 'worthy and well-affected members of the commonwealth' in what they should think after they have neglected 'their own affairs to look into the transactions of state'. Steele also wrote that each issue would 'have something which may be of entertainment to the Fair Sex, in honour of whom I have taken the title of this Paper' - a reference to 'tattlers', or idle talkers.

Working in the fashionable rococo style, Hayman produced nearly two hundred designs for book illustrations in the course of his career with almost half of them being engraved by Grignion (Allen 1987, pp.183-6). But he was also a leading history painter and had a flourishing portrait practice. So, in the spirit of Steele's general tone, this frontispiece gently upsets the conventions of the modern conversation piece in which Hayman himself and others customarily portrayed figures fashionably and elegantly disposed in groups - usually in handsome interiors. Hayman shows an author, his pen idle, sitting at his table, while his companion looks up from her journal: the atmosphere is one of exasperation and boredom - in marked contrast to the elegant detachment which was the currency of contemporary portraiture. The black cat, the normal symbol of the witch's familiar, can perhaps be seen as a witty allusion to Steele's references to 'false arts' and 'cunning' and maybe, even, to his female audience.

Drawings made specifically for engravings were usually executed in pen and ink and monochrome washes, as here, because engravings reproduced tone and line rather than colour. By coating the back of the drawing with graphite or something similar as this one was the design could be transferred directly onto the copper plate - hence its being printed in reverse (see fig.13) - and the indentations of Grignion's stylus where he followed Hayman's line in the course of doing this can be seen quite clearly, for example, on the author's leg.

Robin Hamlyn

Published in:
Anne Lyles and Robin Hamlyn, and others, British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection with a Selection of Drawings and Oil Sketches, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, p.56 no.10, reproduced in colour p.57