Pensioners outside the chapel at Greenwich ('An Old Tar doing Penance for his devotion to Jolly Bacchus')
A group of Greenwich pensioners outside the Chapel in the Queen Mary Court of Greenwich Hospital, with the river Thames beyond. The 'Old Tar' of the original title (on the reverse of the canvas, where it is also signed and dated) is the 'canary' wearing the yellow Hospital punishment coat which identified miscreants against internal rules. By the 1830s it was worn largely for being drunk on Sundays, when Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy (Governor of the Hospital 1834-1839) gained further honour by abolishing it. The standing figure on the right is a Hospital Boatswain. One of the seated pensioners is looking at the three men who stand left of centre and seems to be leering at them. X-rays show that originally the picture included two milk-maids where the three men now stand. They have been painted out although the goat and dog which accompanied them remain. The flagon, broken pipe-stems and the dandelion (a symbol of regret) on the floor in the lower right corner show the original painting was a wry commentary on the effects of drink and age on sexual desire and performance - on which the artist clearly had second thoughts. One seated man wears an unidentified medal with a blue ribbon similar to that of the Naval General Service Medal, though this was not issued until 1848. One of his companions and the boatswain, standing far right, wear the 1842 China War medal, identifiable by its red ribbon with gold edges. This suggests that at least some of the sitters shown are portraits. Pidding was a local Greenwich painter who exhibited at the Royal Academy with some success.
Henry James Pidding
- Image reference: BHC1816
- National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
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