Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Rembrandt Roast

One of the first accounts of Joshua Kirby in London is his presence as one of the two dozen diners at the infamous Rembrandt Roast of Thomas Hudson.  The anecdote is recounted in various versions – this is abbreviated from Paulson’s account in his three-volume Hogarth, which in turn is  based on Wilson’s account that appeared in a biography of one of his sons.  While there is no reason to trust all of Wilson’s reminiscence, it does give a colorful view.

The work of Rembrandt was much-prized by eighteenth century artists and connoisseurs, some of whom had more confidence in their taste than was warranted.  The artist Benjamin Wilson, who had a falling out with his neighbor Thomas Hudson, conceived of a plan, which he hatched with the connivance of Hogarth.  Wilson etched a couple of plates in the style of Rembrandt and passed the etchings off as those of the master. Hudson immediately bought one, claiming it had ‘the finest light and shade that he had ever seen by Rembrandt.’ Wilson and Hogarth sold a few other prints to gullible collectors and then decided to expose the hoax and Hudson.

Wilson took the money he had earned and invited two dozen artists, including Hudson, to a supper featuring an “English roast”. When the chief dish of a large cold sirloin appeared it was ‘decorated not with greens or with horseradish, but covered all over with the same kind of prints” as Hudson had bought. At first Hudson refused to believe he had been fooled, but “Hogarth stuck his fork into one of the engravings, and handed it to him”.

`”What did Hogarth say, Sir?” asked Benjamin West [to whom Wilson was recounting the episode], when he heard the story. “He! an impudent dog! he did nothing but laugh with Kirby the whole evening.—Hudson never forgave him for it.”‘

Hudson did not take the joke kindly, and the affair rumbled on.  However, Hudson, along with Wilson and Hogarth, was a subscriber to the first edition of Kirby’s Method of Perspective a couple of years later.

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The Inn at Scole

One of Joshua Kirby’s earliest known works is a depiction of the White Hart Inn at Scole in Norfolk, just across the border from his native Suffolk.  The White Hart Inn was a coaching inn that was famous for its enormous sign that stretched across the road, was large enough for coaches to pass underneath, and contained a mass of carving, mostly life-sized.  The sign was supposedly built in 1655 for James Peck, owner of the building, at the astronomical price of £1057. John Fossey engraved Kirby’s depiction and the prints were issued in 1740.  The engraving measured 17.5″x22″ and included detailed representation of the sign with all its figures at a scale of half an inch to a foot. After Kirby’s death, the engraving was reprinted in Volume 2 of M.J. Armstrong’s 10-volume History and Antiquities of the County of Norfolk (1781).

Kirby's Scole Inn

Part of Kirby’s Scole Inn, showing the sign

The Inn was also known for having had a large round bed that could accommodate up to 40 people.

The building still exists, and is still an Inn, although sadly the sign is no more (nor is the bed).

Scole Inn now

Kirby and his World

This site is dedicated to Joshua Kirby (1716-1774), his life, times, friends, and anything else I find interesting about mid-18th century England.

Kirby was an artist and author and I will write more about his works in later posts. He was a friend of Thomas Gainsborough and William Hogarth.  Gainsborough painted a portrait of Kirby and his wife in the late 1740’s.  Felicity Owen dates the painting ‘close to 1746’, although the National Portrait Gallery goes with 1751 or 1752.

Gainsborough's portrait  of the Kirbys