The Royal Court at Play
Scattered across the front of the canvas lie abandoned toys and musical instruments: a drum, a cello, a sun hat and – wait for it – a hula hoop. There’s also a kite and a red and white flag, perhaps that of St George, patron saint of England. The Prince Regent took St George’s day, 23 April, as his official birthday, and it’s possible that the flag is intended to represent him. Some, though, have suggested that the prince is supposed to be standing in the place of anyone viewing the painting, since several of the guests seem to be looking out of the canvas at someone or something.
Many of the figures are female, wearing distinctive Regency clothing with dresses that drape low on the shoulders to emphasise their swan-like necks. Accompanying them are royal heralds wearing scarlet jackets. The Prince Regent himself had something of a reputation with the ladies – who knows how many court intrigues were taking place among the people gathered that day?
This part of England was dear to Turner, and it continued to inspire him even after he sold his Twickenham home, Sandycombe Lodge, in 1826.