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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