Frances Abington, as Lady Bab Lardoon in 'The Maid of the Oaks' by Lieutenant-General John Burgoyne
Oil on canvas
Lady Bab Lardoon : The Maid of the Oaks
On pedestal at left "T. Hickey / 1775"
1833 London, Queen's Bazaar, Oxford Street, "Mr Mathews's Gallery of Theatrical Portraits" (14)
1934 London, Royal Academy, "British Art" (238)
1951 London, Tate Gallery, "Pictures from the Garrick Club" (23)
1997 London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, "Dramatic Art
Theatrical Paintings from the Garrick Club" (25)
This painting depicts the actress Frances Abington, in the character of Lady Bab Lardoon, from the play ‘Maid of the Oaks’, written by Lt. Gov. John Burgoyne. Mrs Abington was the original Lady Bab, when the comedy was first produced at Drury Lane on 5 November 1774. The play featured an overture and music between the acts, by F. H. Bartélemon. Phillippe De Loutherbourg designed the scenery in such a way that it allowed for special lighting effects to take place. The reviewer in the "Westminster Magazine" of November 1774 mentions the "Superb exhibitions of transparent scenery" whilst damning the play itself.
The play had been written in two acts to celebrate the marriage of Edward Smith Stanley, later twelfth earl of Derby, and Lady Elizabeth Hamilton, held at Burgoyne's home, The Oaks, near Epsom in Surrey. Burgoyne was in charge of the arrangements and had enlisted the help of David Garrick and Robert Adam to help. The result was a very lavish celebration, accounts of which circulated among societyat the time. Burgoyne and Garrick decided to take advantage of the notoriety of the wedding and its entertainment, by expanding the comedy to five acts. It went on to become part of Drury Lane’s repertoire.
Mr Oldworth, owner of ‘The Oaks’ is holding a fête champêtre to celebrate the marriage of his daughter Maria (the “Maid of the Oak”) to Sir Harry Grveby. Lady Bab Lardoon is a guest at this party, and is a worldly, cosmopolitan, sophisticated character. On hearing of a fellow guest Charles Dupeley's boast, that he prides himself on his discerning judge of character, and defies any woman to entangle him into matrimony, she decides to teach him a lesson. She does this by plotting to seduce him under the guise of Philly Nettletop, a simple shepherdess. In this painting Hickey, captures the moment in Act III, Scene 3, when Lady Bab, dressed as a shepherdess, unpins her nosegay and gives it to Dupeley, to win his love. The scene is watched form behind the shrubbery by Mr Oldsworth, who eventually jumps out to reveal Lady Bab’s real identity.