Benjamin Robert Haydon

Punch or May Day

1829

In Tate Britain
Artist
Benjamin Robert Haydon 1786–1846
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 1505 x 1851 mm
frame: 2010 x 2270 x 165 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Bequeathed by George Darling 1862
Reference
N00682

Display caption

Haydon thought of calling this painting ‘Life’, reflecting his ambition to capture a cross-section of London. His composition is full of pairings and contrasts. A hearse and a marriage coach nearly collide. The newly-weds are contrasted with the violent Punch and Judy puppet show on the left. Christianity, as represented by St Marylebone Church, co-exists with the pre-Christian May Day procession in the foreground on the right. Part of this parade is a dancing chimney sweep with blond curls and soot-blackened face. This performance of ‘blackness’ contrasts with the artist’s treatment of the black footman standing at the back of the carriage.

Gallery label, July 2018

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