The second in a series
of eight tapestry panels "The Merry Wives of Windsor",
which, with No.1 "Queen
made a total of nine, gold medal winning, exhibits at The Paris
Exhibition of 1878. For a detail view of Sir John, see below.
Detail of St John
Artist: T. W. Hay
Subject: Act III, Scene III. The bank of
the Thames at Datchet Mead, where Sir John Falstaff is thrown
into the ditch from the laundry basket, "more than half
stewed in grease, like a Dutch dish... and cooled, glowing hot,
in that surge like a horse shoe",... by Mistress Ford's
servants Robert and John, who had carried him in the basket of
"foul clothes" in which he had hidden to escape from
the suspicious Mr. Ford who had arrived at his house in Windsor"with
all the officers in Windsor, to search for a gentleman,"
who he suspected had been invited there "to take an ill
advantage of his absence... " In the centre foreground,
Falstaff sprawls on his back, swathed in "foul clothes"
amidst the riverside plants where he has been tipped out. A mallard
drake flies up, and a fisherman sits laughing, holding his rod,
two fat roach at his feet (left). Robert and John laugh at either
end of the basket, and behind them a woodman stops to watch,
his axe over his shoulder, the North Terrace of Windsor Castle
in the background on the skyline. A man sits smiling at the scene
from under an oak tree, and tucks a book under his arm, while
a wood pigeon and two doves perched above turn their heads towards
the commotion below. On the right a tall figure stands watching.
The scene "embroidered as it were a mead all full of fresh
flowers white and red" is full of woodland meadow and waterside
flowers and plants, from the pink of the flowering rush, and
the yellow flags (left foreground) and kingcups, to the wood
violets, primroses, fritillaria, daisies, feverfew and orchis
scattered among the watchers. A building with castellations and
conical roofs to its towers can be seen in the direction of Frogmore
between two trees, from one of which an owl stares. In the distance
(left) is a white farmhouse.
Cartoon: Not known
Size: 6 ft. 34 in. high when the bottom
border is refixed, the picture being 4 ft. 10 in.
by 11 ft. 4 in., the end borders are missing, and their selvedges
have been teased out to form a fringe.
Warps: 16 per inch
Colours: The red and blue clothing, varied
greens of the meadow and riverside plants
and trees, with the many flowers and colourful features of the
scene, renders this one of the brightest of the series.
The fisherman has a white sheepskin cap on his brown hair, red
cape and sleeves and stockings, with a blue doublet. Robert kneels
by the basket. He has a red cap, grey coat, bright red purse
on a belt, red striped trousers and blue stockings. John has
a red hat and cape, a grey blue doublet with blue cuffs, red
trousers and grey stockings.
Falstaff, swathed in linen from the basket, has a red hat and
sleeves, blue stockings and brown topboots. The woodman has a
blue cap, brown beard, a blue doublet and brown cape slung over
his shoulder, generally drably dressed. The tall figure on the
right has a red hat and gown with fur trimming over the shoulder,
and embroidered hem in blue and gold. The reader under the oak
tree has a mustard coloured cap, a blue gown under his drab tunic,
and brown stockings. The head of the mallard with its brightly
coloured feathers, and Falstaff's crimson face contrast with
his white beard and the dirty linen.
Border: The top is part detached due to
a failure of the stitching, and the bottom is quite detached
but whole. These are similar to the borders of "Ye Merrie
Wives" except that the squares at the angles have apparently
been lost or used with the side borders in course of repairs
to others of the series. The ribbon "Sir John Falstaff"
in the centre of the lower border has dark reddish purple letters
on a light ground with bands of gold on a blue background.
Marks: T. W. Hay (centre of lower edge,
in deep red letters, by Falstaff). In the bottom
right corner is the Windsor mark of a stylised crown above _l l_ Windsor
Tapestry 1877 N3.
H. Henry, M. Brignolas.
Exhibited: Paris Exhibition 1878, Gold Medal,
with No. 1 of the set of nine, the tapestry
portrait of Queen Victoria. (Handlist No. 1). Windsor Guildhall,
Ownership: Commissioned by Gillow & Co.,
of Oxford Street, London. Bought complete with the entire decor
of the Prince of Wales' dining room in the British Pavilion at
the Paris Exhibition 1878 by Sir Albert Sassoon for the dining
room of his mansion at 25 Kensington Gore.
References: Furniture Gazette. 26 January and
7 September, 1878
WE, 9 November and 7 December, 1878
Art Journal, 1879, p.64,
WE, 7 December, 1878
The Windsor Express, 9 November, 1878, reported: "OLD WINDSOR
TAPESTRY WINS GOLD MEDAL... the award has given tremendous satisfaction
to Her Majesty who has now commanded that all the tapestries
at the Palace of Holyrood shall be sent to Old Windsor for renovation.
Many... are in a bad state of repair, some even falling to pieces."
Addendum: It was thought that apart from
the tapestry portrait of Queen Victoria none of this series had
survived, but seven of the missing eight were collected by Messrs.
Christies (Christie, Manson & Woods Ltd., St. James's, London)
in preparation for auction later in the autumn of 1978. This
only became known in September 1978 when the text of this volume
had already gone to press. Previously little information and
only shadowy vague outlines could be gleaned from the above accounts
and from rare engravings showing the Prince of Wales's dining
room at the Paris Exhibition of 1878, and the Exhibition at the
Town Hall, Windsor, in December 1878.
Knight, Charles, Virtue's Imperial Shakespeare Div. 1 (Introductory
notice, pp. 71-76)
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