Le 2016-03-11 à 09:46 by Xavier :
Ranelagh was one of the ‘pleasure gardens’, places of entertainment which flourished in the 18th century, where, for an entrance fee, the inhabitants could meet, dance and listen to music, attend shows, have refreshments. They were on the outskirts of cities, offering both city pleasures and the delights of an excursion towards the country and its fresh air. Their major feature, in the context of the times, was that they offered new modes of sociability, since among the visitors both members of the aristocracy and commoners could be found; people paying a small fee and acceptably dressed could enter, whereas other types of social occasions concerned specific social groups,e.g. balls in the townhouses of the nobility or city festivities for the merchant classes. The pleasure gardens offered new public spaces corresponding to Enlightenment forms of urban culture and sociability: places of ‘politeness’ – the new social ideal –, with occasional patriotic celebrations, and of shared refined pleasures and entertainment. They afforded opportunities to enjoy the Georgian visual culture of surprising landscape vistas, displays of the commodities produced by the developing luxury crafts of the time, together with a culture of sociability based on mutual representation since the visitors came not only to see all these shows but also to play their parts in the eyes of others. Ranelagh is to the South-West of London, near Chelsea Hospital for old soldiers, on the former grounds of Ranelagh House, the residence of the Earl of Ranelagh who died in 1712. The pleasure garden opened in 1742. It charged higher admission prices (usually 2 shillings on ordinary days, and up to 2 guineas - 42 shillings- for masquerades) than the Vauxhall pleasure garden on the opposite South bank of the Thames (1 shilling), so as to be more exclusive, attracting more aristocratic or richer Londoners, as Vauxhall was increasingly frequented by a larger section of society; advertisements of the time for Ranelagh favourably described the visitors as ‘nobility and gentry’. Horace Walpole writes that the visitors would find the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cumberland (another son of the King), but also ‘children from the Foundling Hospital’ (Letter to Conway, 29 June 1744). Ranelagh closed in 1803. The access was made easy on ‘ridotto’ days by additional lighting on the road and horse patrols. It was possible to cross the Thames on a wherry to reach Vauxhall on the opposite bank. It had a formal garden where visitors could take walks in the alleys, and a canal with a Chinese pavilion reflecting the growing taste for exoticism; at night, the garden was illuminated with lanterns. From 1767 there was a garden orchestra. The most significant feature was the large Rotunda (150 feet in diameter) where the visitors could retreat on rainy days, and where concerts were given. The entrances were four porticoes; round the wall were two tiers of 52 boxes, each for a group of 7-8 people; above were 60 windows, and the room was also lit by chandeliers; the ceiling was blue with painted celestial figures in each panel. The central structure was first used for the orchestra, but later for fireplaces, whereas the orchestra was moved to one side, and an organ set up behind it in 1746. Twice a week, a ‘ridotto’ (the Venetian word) was given, where concert and dinner were held for a higher price. Masquerades were given for special occasions such as the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1749, with disguised dancers in the alleys, music played from a boat on the canal, and shops selling wares from various countries; another special occasion was the ball for the birthday of the Prince of Wales in 1759. Among the famous concerts given there is the one given by the eight-years old Mozart in 1764. There were fireworks sometimes. The ‘Etna’ show of volcanic explosions with Vulcan’s forge was added in 1792. Views by contemporaries were widely divergent; in Smollett’s epistolary novel Humphy Clinker (1771), the melancholy uncle Matthew Bramble visiting London writes satirically about Ranelagh ‘One half of the company are following at the other’s tails, in an eternal circle … while the other half are drinking hot water, under the denomination of tea, till nine or ten o’clock at night, to keep them awake for the rest of the evening ’ (29 May), whereas his enthusiastic young niece Lydia writes ‘Ranelagh looks like the inchanted palace of a genie (-i.e. an Oriental supernatural character-), adorned with the most exquisite performances of painting, carving, and gilding, enlightened with a thousand golden lamps, that emulate the noon-day sun; crowded with the great, the rich (-…-)’(31 May); the last words show that she is happy to be admitted to the haunts of the upper tiers of society, while marking the mix of social groups, both ‘great’ and ‘rich’ visitors (or seemingly so). Ranelagh’s contribution to forms of sociability was that it offered a place for comparatively mixed yet exclusive social life, based of a culture of spectacle: visuality as a social bond.