Exhibition Room – Furniture & Artwork

Title George Frideric Handel
Artist William Hoare
Medium Oil on canvas
Date c. 1760
Collection Gerald Coke Handel Collection

Portrait of John Gay, painted by Jonathon Richardson, oil on canvas, c. 1725

Title: John Gay
Artist: Jonathan Richardson
Medium: Engraving
Date: 1725
Collection: Gerald Coke Collection, The Foundling Museum

The Beggar’s Opera was the brainchild of another of Handel’s early contacts, John Gay (1685-1732) who, with John Hughes and possibly Alexander Pope, provided the text for Acis and Galatea. The Beggar’s Opera was first performed at the Lincoln’s Inn Theatre in 1728 with Gay as librettist and the orchestration and overture provided by Pepusch. Highly satirical and unashamedly English, it cheerfully turned Opera seria on its head, making heroes of highwaymen and villains of state officials, mixing the tunes of popular ballads with Italian-style music (some by Handel) and replacing recitative with spoken English.


Title: Alexander Pope
Artist: Studio of Michael Dahl
Medium: Oil on canvas
Date: c. 1727
Collection: National Portrait Gallery, London

Pope (1688-1744) may have been involved with the text for the original 1718 version of Handel’s English oratorio Esther. No fan of Italian opera, Pope criticised Handel’s involvement in this art form in the Dunciad (Book I), attacking amongst other things the use of castrati singers or ‘warbling eunuchs’. Later in the 1742 edition (Book III) he praises Handel’s “conversion” to English libretti, describing his English oratorios as an “outstanding threat to the realm of dullness”. In the same work Pope celebrated the extraordinary success of the English ballad-opera, The Beggar’s Opera, first performed in January 1728. He writes that it “drove out of England the Italian Opera, which carry’d all before it for ten years”.


Title: Owen MacSwinny
Artist: After Peter Van Bleeck
Medium: Oil on canvas
Date: 1737
Collection: National Portrait Gallery, London

Owen MacSwinny (d. 1754) was manager of The Queen’s (later King’s) Theatre when Handel first arrived in London. Unfortunately, paying for elaborate seasons of Italian opera stretched MacSwinny’s resources to the limit and as a result he is best remembered for absconding with the takings for Handel’s third opera Teseo in January 1713 to avoid total bankruptcy. During his exile on the continent he continued to be useful to Handel and the Royal Academy of Music by acting as a scout for singers.


Title: Thomas Britton
Artist: John Wollaston
Medium: Oil on canvas
Date: 1703
Collection: National Portrait Gallery, London

From 1678 to his death, Britton held concerts in the room above his coal shop in Clerkenwell, which according to one observer was “the weekly resort of the old the young, the gay and the fair of all ranks, including highest order of nobility”. As a venue renowned for the status of its audience as well as its novelty value, it is likely that Handel would have attended at least one or more of these gatherings in the company of one of his early contacts. Britton, a superstitious man, apparently died of a heart attack upon meeting a ventriloquist in 1714.