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Like his drinking-partner Thomas Rowlandson, Woodward absorbed high and low culture omnivorously and paid keen attention to contemporary politics.
A Political Fair is ‘a fantastic survey of the international situation’ in 1807 and is considered one of Woodward’s finest images, the print catalogue of the British Museum devoting two full pages to its complex allegories. At the heart of the fair is a large booth (‘The Best-Booth in the Fair’) representing Great Britain holding aloft on its platform images of Britannia, John Bull, together with an Irishman, Scotsman and Welsh harpist gathered convivially around a punchbowl, while a waiter sweeps into the chamber below with a vast joint of roast beef on his platter. All this was typical of Woodward’s patriotism and was intended to portray the essential unity of the nation amidst the host of clamouring figures in the neighbouring booths representing the other nations. Napoleon, in tricorn and feathers, rebuffs a disgruntled Dutchman complaining about his King with the words ‘I never change Mynheer after the goods are taken out of the Shop’. High up on the right, the American booth displays a placard advertising ‘Much ado about Nothing with the Deserter’, a reference to the friction between Britain and the United States over recent defections from British to American ships and the ban on armed British ships in American ports. The Danish booth on the left advertises ‘The English Fleet and The Devil to Pay’ in reference to the hideous bombardment of Copenhagen by the British fleet in September that year.
Musical and theatrical references abound, with many of the placards punning on the titles of plays and musical performances then showing in London: Much ado about nothing, All’s well that ends well (Shakespeare), The Padlock (Bickerstaffe), The Deserter (Dibdin), The Double Dealer (on the Russian booth, by Congreve) and The English Fleet (Dibdin again). see full details...