Francis Le Piper

Hudibras’s First Encounter with the Bear-Baiters

Not on display

Francis Le Piper ?1640–1695
Oil paint on wood
Support: 216 × 435 mm
displayed: 330 × 540 × 60 mm
Presented by Sir John Rothenstein through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1963

Catalogue entry

Francis Le Piper ?1640–1695

Hudibras’s First Encounter with the Bear-Baiters
Oil paint on panel
2175 x 435 mm
Presented by Sir John Rothenstein through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1963

Ownership history
… ; ?W. Davies, 1816, sold Christie’s, 9 June 1821 (no.138, as by Hogarth), bought Ford; … ; Southgate’s, bought John Britton by 1830; … ; Thomas Hipp; … ; Sir William Rothenstein by 1904, bequeathed 1945 to Sir John Rothenstein; presented to Tate Gallery 1963.

Exhibition history
Works of Art, Bradford, 1904, no.5 or 6 (as by Hogarth).
Georgian England, Whitechapel Art Gallery, March 1906, no.8 (this or Tate T00621, as by Hogarth)

J.B. Nichols (ed.), Anecdotes of William Hogarth, Written by Himself, 1833 edn, p.349.
John C. Conybeare, ‘The East Haddon Hogarths’, Art Journal, 1874, p.265.
Austin Dobson, William Hogarth, 1902, pp.167–8.

Tate’s four works by Le Piper (see also Tate T00621, T00247 and T00248) entered the collection as separate pairs, in 1959 and 1963, although it seems likely that originally they all formed part of a set of twelve panels illustrating episodes from Samuel Butler’s hugely popular satirical poem, Hudibras. Such a set of painted panels is mentioned by Nichols in his 1833 edition of Hogarth’s Anecdotes: ‘The late Mr W Davies, bookseller, in the Strand’, he says, ‘had, in 1816, twelve small pictures of scenes in Hudibras, by Lepipre, a man under whom Hogarth is said to have studied; and the subjects so familiar to all as executed by Hogarth from Hudibras, are so similar to these twelve pictures, that Mr Davies considered there could not be a doubt of Hogarth having copied them’.1 In addition, Nichols notes that ‘Mr J Britton has also a series of twelve designs on panel, illustrative of Butler’s Hudibras, designed and coloured in a superior manner. He bought them, as painted by Hogarth, at Southgate’s; but Sir Thomas Lawrence pronounced them to be by Vandergucht [John Van der Gucht, 1697–1776]’. It is perfectly possible that these two references in fact record the same set of panels – indeed, Tate T00247 and Tate T00248 are in fact two of those from Britton’s collection, formerly attributed to Van der Gucht. That Le Piper’s work has been muddled with Hogarth’s is not surprising given, as mentioned above by Nichols, Hogarth’s much better known set of Hudibras book illustrations and his later, larger format set of engravings. That Hogarth studied under Le Piper is obviously erroneous as he was born in 1697, two years after Le Piper’s death. Whether he was familiar with Le Piper’s work is another matter. His sixteen book illustrations, first published in a 1726 edition of Hudibras, seem freely based on the illustrations which appeared in the 1710 edition, but these are unsigned.

Inspired by Cervantes’s famous work Don Quixote, Hudibras was a burlesque satire on Puritanism which Butler, a royalist, began to write in the 1650s. It was published in three parts: the first in 1663, the second in 1664 and the third in 1678. As well as these first editions, there were several reissues of each part, including a joint publication of parts 1 and 2 in 1674 and a combined three-part edition in 1684. The work appeared unillustrated until the 1710 edition, mentioned above, which was introduced by Zachary Grey and ‘adorned with cuts’. Of Le Piper’s original set of twelve panels, eleven are known today (in addition to Tate’s four, three are owned by Rye Art Gallery, two are in the Bute collection, and two were sold at Sotheby’s on 18 November 1981). None of the panels appear to illustrate episodes from part 3 of the poem, suggesting therefore that the series pre-dates this part’s publication in 1678.

The two main characters, the knight, Hudibras, and Ralpho, his squire, represent respectively Presbyterianism and the Independents, another Puritan sect with whom the Presbyterians were at variance. Hudibras is presented as a ridiculous character, full of lofty conceit and pretentious classical and philosophical learning. His appearance as described by Butler, the opposite of noble gentility, is accurately captured by Le Piper. Dressed in a buff coloured doublet, he is hunchbacked and corpulent, has an unkempt beard and a half-blind nag for a mount. It is through Hudibras’s mock-heroic antics, and his long discourses with Ralpho, that Butler highlights what he perceived as the failings of Puritanism, its divisions and contradictions as well as its illogical factional disputes.

Most of what is known of Le Piper derives from Buckeridge. The son of a wealthy merchant, he was of a ‘gay, facetious humour’ and produced his ‘humorous or comical’ drawings mainly in London taverns. He also decorated a room in the Mitre Tavern, Stocks Market, with grisailles pieces representing characters of different religions and sects.2 It is easy to see, therefore, why Butler’s satirical look at pre-Restoration religion and manners appealed to him. His illustrations to Hudibras are the only works in oil known by him, although a handful of drawings survive, mainly caricature heads, for example those in the British Museum.

Of the eleven of the original twelve panels known, this is the first episode in the sequence. The scene is taken from Part 1, Canto 2. Having sallied forth into the world in search of adventure, Hudibras and Ralpho come upon a troupe of bear-baiters and decide to prevent the ‘heathenish practice’ from taking place. The bear-baiters are angered by Hudibras’s arrogant moral discourse and a fight ensues. The scene shows a moment mid-way through the fight. Ralpho’s horse, having had thistles thrust under its tail, starts to kick and throws Ralpho to the ground. In falling, Ralpho knocks Hudibras who is partially dislodged from his seat: he is seen in the centre, astride his horse but ‘sat on further side, aslope’, about to fall on top of Bruin, the bear.

The panel entered the collection together with Hudibras’ Discomfiture at the Hands of the Skimmington (Tate T00621). When it, one of these two paintings appeared in the Georgian England exhibition at Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1906, a further panel, similarly described
as a ‘sketch for “Hudibras” by Hogarth’ was also exhibited, but from the collection of Lieut. General H.F. Davies. Whether it was another from the Le Piper series is unknown.

Tabitha Barber
June 2009


1 J.B. Nichols (ed.), Anecdotes of William Hogarth, Written by Himself, 1833 edn, p.349.
2 E. Croft Murray and P. Hulton, Catalogue of British Drawings. Vol.1: XVI and XVII Centuries, British Museum, London 1960, pp.424–5.


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