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Title Astley Bransby as Aesop, William Parsons as the Old Man, and Watkins as the Servant in a Scene from Garrick's 'Lethe'
Collection Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Artist Zoffany, Johann (German painter, 1733-1810, active in England)
Date 1766
Description Lethe was written by David Garrick and first produced at Drury Lane in 1740. The cast for the revival of Lethe put on by 'Command of Their Majesties' at Drury Lane Theatre, 1766 are those represented here. The play relates how Proserpine begged from Pluto the favour that humans might once a year be allowed to drink the waters of forgetfulness of the river Lethe. Aesop was to judge who were fit to receive them. Aesop is with an old man, one of the applicants and his servant. The old man, who wishes to forget that he will soon die and leave his money behind him, is much alarmed when Aesop offers to make him forget he has any money at all. The picture illustrates the following lines:
The waters are of a wholesome nature - for they'll teach you to forget your money.

Old Man: Will they so? - come, come, John, wer are got to the wrong place - The poor old fool here does not know what he says.

Zoffany painted many theatrical scenes of well-known, recognisable actors actually performing favourite moments from plays.
Current Accession Number 1948P39
Former Accession Number P.39'48
Subject portrait (Bransby, Astley; Parsons, William; Watkins); literature (Lethe by David Garrick)
Measurements 100.4 x 101.6 cm cm (estimate)
Material oil on canvas
Acquisition Details Purchased from Roland, Browse & Delbanco Ltd 1948.
Provenance Robert Alexander sale, Christie's, 7 March 1776, lot 76; Sir George Beaumont in 1814; Sir George Beaumont sale, Sotheby's, 30 June 1948, lot 53.
Principal Exhibitions British Institution, London, 1814, cat. no. 124; National Portraits Exhibition, South Kensington, 1868, cat. no. 783; Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1888, cat. no. 120; Leicester Art Gallery, 1939; Painters and the Theatre, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, 1949, cat. no. 198; Zoffany, Arts Council, 1960, cat. no. 15; Primitives to Picasso, Royal Academy, London, 1962, cat. no. 168.
Publications Manners, V. and C. G. Williamson, John Zoffany. His life and works, London, 1920, p. 313; Sewster, A. C., 'Four English Illustrative Pictures', Burlington Magazine, vol. 74, 1939, p. 127; Mander, R. and J. Mitcheson, The Artist and the Theatre, 1955, pp. 13-19; Illustrations, 1952, p. 50; Catalogue of Paintings in Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, 1960; Foreign Paintings in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, A Summary Catalogue, 1983, p.103.
Notes Mezzotint by Young in 1788. An oil study for the picture of Parsons as the Old Man is in the Garrick Club. Letter in file says; 'Lethe, first produced at Drury Lane 15 April 1740, Goodman's Fields, 1741, Prince's Theatre under the alternative title, Aesop in the Shades in 1745, 1756 and 1777. In 1782 it was produced at Edinburgh.
Rights Owner Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Author Dr Patricia Smyth

 

 

 

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