Garrick Club

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The Garrick Club

Logo of the Garrick Club.jpg

Founded 1831
Website http://www.garrickclub.co.uk/
Address 15 Garrick Street
Occupied since 1864
Established for The Arts; especially theatre
Motto All the world's a stage

The Garrick Club is a gentlemen's club in London founded in 1831. It is one of the oldest, highly esteemed and exclusive members club in the world and since its conception has catered to members such as Charles Kean, Henry Irving, Beerbohm Tree, Arthur Sullivan, Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud. From the literary world came writers such as Charles Dickens, H. G. Wells, JM Barrie, AA Milne, and Kingsley Amis. The visual arts has been represented by painters such as John Everett Millais, Lord Leighton and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

As of 2010, the club has around 1,300 members including many of the most distinguished actors and men of letters in the United Kingdom. New candidates must be proposed by an existing member before election in a secret ballot, the original assurance of the committee being “that it would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted”. The Garrick Club is also home to major collections of art, with more than 1,000 paintings, drawings and sculptures on display. It also houses a theatrical library.

History[edit]

The Garrick Club was founded at a meeting in the Committee Room at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on Wednesday 17 August 1831. Present were James Winston (a former strolling player, manager & important theatre antiquarian), Samuel James Arnold (playwright & theatre manager), Samuel Beazley (architect & playwright), Sir Andrew Francis Barnard (officer hero of the Peninsular Wars & Waterloo), and Francis Mills (timber merchant & railway speculator). It was decided to write down a number of names in order to invite them to be original members of the Garrick Club. The avowed purpose of the Club was to "tend to the regeneration of the Drama."[1]

The Club was named in honour of the eminent actor David Garrick whose acting and management at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in the previous century, had by the 1830s come to represent a golden age of British drama. Less than six months later the members had been recruited and a Club House found and equipped on King Street in Covent Garden. On 1 February 1832 it was reported that the novelist and journalist Thomas Gaspey was the first member to enter at 11am, and that “Mr Beazley gave the first order, (a mutton chop) at ½ past 12.”

The list of those that took up original membership runs like a Who’s Who of the Green Room for 1832: actors such as John Braham, Charles Kemble, William Charles Macready, Charles Mathews and his son Charles James; the playwrights James Robinson Planché, Theodore Hook and Thomas Noon Talfourd; scene-painters including Clarkson Stanfield and Thomas Grieve. Even the patron, the Duke of Sussex, had an element of the theatrical about him, being a well known mesmerist. To this can be added numerous Barons, Counts, Dukes, Earls and Lords, soldiers, parliamentarians and judges.

The membership would later include the like of Charles Kean, Henry Irving, Beerbohm Tree, Arthur Sullivan, JM Barrie, AW Pinero, Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud. From the literary world came writers such as Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, Anthony Trollope, H. G. Wells, AA Milne, and Kingsley Amis. The visual arts has been represented by painters such as John Everett Millais, Lord Leighton and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The Club’s popularity at the beginning of the 1860s created an overcrowding of its original club-house. Slum clearance being undertaken just round the corner provided the opportunity to move into a brand new purpose built home on what became known as Garrick Street. The move was completed in 1864 and the Club remains in this building today.

All new candidates must be proposed by an existing member before election in a secret ballot, the original assurance of the committee being “that it would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted”. At present the Club remains “gentlemen only”, although Lady guests are welcome in most parts of the Club. This exclusive nature of the club was highlighted when reporter Jeremy Paxman applied to join but was initially blackballed, though he was later admitted, an experience he shares with Sir Henry Irving who despite being the first actor to receive a knighthood had himself been blackballed in 1873.

Garrick Club building at Covent Garden, London

The Club holds a remarkable collection of art works representing the history of the British theatre. There are over 1000 paintings, drawings and sculptures, a selection of theatrical memorabilia, and thousands of prints and photographs.[2]

The collection originated with the actor Charles Mathews, one of the original members of the Club who had a passion for collecting theatrical portraits; they were once displayed by him in a gallery at his home, Ivy Cottage, in Highgate, North London. Mathews managed to secure a large number of pictures from the collection of Thomas Harris, who had been manager of Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, and which included paintings by the likes of Johan Zoffany, Francis Hayman and Gainsborough Dupont. He also actively commissioned artists such as Samuel De Wilde to paint all the popular stars of the stage at that time (there are 196 works by De Wilde in the collection). Mathews had hoped to sell the collection to the Club and it appears that lengthy negotiations were entered into without any result. It was eventually purchased by a wealthy stock-broker and donated to the Club, having already hung on its walls for several years.

The collection continued to grow with many being presented by artist members, such as Clarkson Stanfield and David Roberts, who with fellow scene painter Louis Haghe painted a series of large canvasses especially for the Smoking Room at the old Clubhouse. Roberts’s Temple at Baalbec remains today one of the most important paintings by that artist. Sir John Everett Millais is represented by one of his most important portraits, that of Sir Henry Irving which he painted and presented to the Club in 1884.

The picture collection continued to expand throughout the twentieth century with artists such as Edward Seago and Feliks Topolski both represented.

When the Club was founded in 1831 Rule 1 of the Garrick Club Rules and Regulations called for the "formation of a theatrical Library, with works on costume". At a General Meeting on 15 October 1831, the barrister John Adolphus suggested that members should present their duplicate dramatic works to the Club, and that these should go some way towards forming a Library. A very valuable collection has thus come together over the years, and its special collections are particularly strong on eighteenth and nineteenth century theatre.

James Winston, the first Secretary and Librarian of the Club, was one of the principal early benefactors and his gifts included minutes from the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, as well as his own Theatric Tourist. These presentations formed the nucleus of a Library which now holds well over 10,000 items, including plays, manuscripts, prints (bound into numerous extra-illustrated volumes), and many photographs.[3]

Notable deceased members[edit]

In 2011, the Garrick Club newsletter compiled a list of 100 notable deceased members, yielding:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Letter from James Winston dated 20 August 1831 to the actor John Pritt Harley inviting him to become an original member.
  2. ^ See http://www.garrickclub.co.uk/art_collection/
  3. ^ http://www.garrickclub.co.uk/library/

External links[edit]