Artists at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century
By the end of the 18th Century Paddington and Lisson Green were desirable areas on the edge of the country yet close to the West End. St Mary's Church, 1791, the 1781 houses opposite the Green and a few stucco houses in Lisson Grove, are reminders of this period. A Botanical Garden had been created on the earlier nursery land, while the Yorkshire Stingo was a country pub with a bowling green. There was a popular theatre off Church Street, where the library now stands.
Many artists lived in the neighbourhood, on the edge of the country, but within walking distance of clients, galleries and engravers. Sandby and Linnell both drew in the area, but the person who gives us the most vivid impression of life at the time is Benjamin Haydon. Haydon's enormous and heroic paintings, which harked back to Greece and Rome, are largely forgotten today and towards the end of his life were often derided. He is now much more famous for his Diaries, which are immediate, vivid and, since he was a very gregarious person, meeting everyone and going everywhere, mentioned almost everyone of note at the time. He began his diary in 1808, at the time of the Peninsular War, and ended it shortly before his suicide in 1846.
Haydon painted a huge picture of the banquet held to celebrate the passing of the 1832 Reform Bill. Every Whig grandee sat to Haydon for this picture and he had already painted many Tories, so he knew many people and commented on them.
He was immediately struck by the quality of the Elgin Marbles when they were first displayed in London and was always in the forefront of artistic discussion. Hard working, he lacked only real genius, but in his diary he is astute and vivid.
Today Mrs Siddons sits on the edge of the Motorway as The Tragic Muse, or more probably, since she has a knife in her hand, as Lady Macbeth. Her statue, on the much reduced Paddington Green, is sadly incongruous, but once her presence dominated Paddington society.
1 The Diary of Benjamin Robert Haydon, Ed. William Bussell-Pope, Harvard U. P. 1960, 2 vols.