The Derby Day

20 Apr

Hi everybody. The sessions are complete, the entire show is recorded and over the next 2 weeks i will be mixing, mastering and putting the finishing touches on the project.

Since that process isn’t really newsworthy or particularly exciting to discuss (except for me, for whom it’s riveting) the blog will resume it’s regular shenanigans.

Side note: Shenanigans is pretty much the most awesome word ever except for shpielhosen and skullfuck. Not only do i use it a lot in these posts, you may be assured i will continue to use it with the same fervor. The way you’ll know i have been abducted and replaced by an inferior double is when “shenanigans” is no longer used on this blog.

I spent a great deal of down time in London going to museums and in particular i highly enjoy paintings. Here’s on that’s worth mentioning as it’s fun, and a great window into Victorian society: The Derby Day:

It was painted over 15 months by William Frith from 1856 to 1858. It captures the famous Epsom Derby, a series of horse races which occurred once a year around May or June and drew enormous crowds made up of all classes of Victorian society. The attendance is estimated at 500,000, insane even by today’s standards. It is noteable in that while for the rest of the year the various classes of British society did not mix, on Derby Day they did, something that makes it ripe for a complex painting.

The painting was a huge sensation in an age when going to see paintings was a very popular activity and the center of many a date, afternoon or evening out. An hour was the time most commonly accepted to spend looking over The Derby Day and rail had to be put up to block the painting from over enthusiastic crowds who would touch it.

The painting, Frith’s undisputed masterpiece shows an incredible cross section of characters and social situations all happening. The dress and mannerisms of each person are key, since not only is the artist telling numerous stories through simply their positions, but he is representing various caricatures and sterotypes of victorian society through clothing and physical features.

 It can be essentially divided into 3 sections.

“There are three main incidents. On the right is the young woman in the carriage, referred to by Hodgson as a ‘Traviata’, the title of Verdi’s famous opera about a courtesan, and a characteristic Victorian way of referring euphemistically to a ‘fallen woman’. She is the kept mistress of the ‘high class fop leaning against the carriage. Related to her is the woman in brown riding clothes, on the extreme left of the painting, who is one of the ‘pretty horse breakers’, high class prostitutes, who at this period daily paraded in Hyde Park on horseback. These women reflect the phenomenal blossoming of prostitution at every level in London in the middle years of Victoria’s reign, also the subject of Holman Hunt’s ‘Awakening Conscience’.


“In the centre, is a father/son acrobatic team. The father beckons his son to come and begin an act, but the child acrobat  who looks longingly over at a sumptuous picnic being laid out by a footman provides a poignant tableau of the social divide. Behind them are carriages filled with quite high class spectators.”

“On the far left, next to the Reform Club’s private tent, a group of men in top hats focus on the thimble-rigger with his table, inviting the audience to participate in the game. The man taking a note from his pocket is the trickster’s accomplice. He is tempting the rustic-looking man in a smock, whose wife is trying to restrain him. On the right of this group, another man, with his hands in his pockets, has had his gold watch stolen by the man behind. the focus is on the ‘thimble riggers’ who have cheated the ‘city gent’ in his top hat out of his money. On his left, a young countrywoman restrains her man from following the same foolish path.”

“The courtesan in the carriage at the picture’s far right  is balanced on the far left by the woman in a dark riding habit, one of a number of high-class prostitutes who daily paraded on horseback in Hyde Park.”

One may note that absolutely none of the people depicted are actually paying any attention to the actual races.

The painting is on display at the Tate Britain, and indeed exploring the two Tates, (Tate Modern and Tate Britian) were two of the best sections of down time i spent in London.


Posted by on April 20, 2012 in Uncategorized


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2 responses to “The Derby Day

  1. Lara Dylan

    April 20, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    I thoroughly enjoy your blog.

    • paulms

      April 20, 2012 at 8:09 pm

      Thanks. Makes my day.


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