oil on canvas
It seems most likely that the three gentlemen were members of one of the numerous clubs which proliferated in the early years of the eighteenth century. As John Macky wrote in 1724 in his book, A Journey through England, London had 'an infinity of clubs or societies for the improvement of learning or keeping up good humour and mirth.' In his authoritative work, British Clubs and Societies 1580-1800, published in 2000, Peter Clark points to a general expansion in the number and diversity of voluntary associations during the early eighteenth century. The more serious clubs covered such diverse areas as politics, music, the visual arts, moral reform and trade. However, there were also many informal drinking clubs, some of which had a scandalous reputation. The most famous was the Hellfire Club started in 1719 by Philip Duke of Wharton, a very exclusive gathering of his aristocratic friends which mocked religious ceremonies and was brought to an end in 1721 by a bill to counteract 'horrid impieties.' There were plenty of lower profile clubs though, and Francis Dashwood and the Earl of Sandwich were said to have been members of a Hellfire Club in the 1730s.
The three gentlemen have the words 'Love and Friendship' on their caps. In his book of 1958, The Hell-Fire Club, Donald McCormick does not mention this motto as one used by Dashwood's club, but in an earlier book Hell-Fire Francis (see Literature) Ronald Fuller suggests that the members wore silver brooches with these words engraved on them. It is clear that the Vansittart brothers were members of Dashwood's club, Robert as one of the inner circle but also including Arthur and Henry (see lot 151). Stories abound about Henry's involvement, including the introduction to the Society of a copy of the Kama Sutra and of a baboon brought back from India. However, despite these links the three gentlemen shown here must have been associated with an earlier club for which this motto was used.
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