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Oil Painting - Scene from John Gay's The Beggar's Opera

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Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery

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Basic Information

Accession Number:1985P47
Collection:Fine Art Paintings and Sculpture
Date:1726 - 1728

Maker Information

Artist:William Hogarth - View biography for William Hogarth


The Beggar's Opera series were the first paintings by a British artist to depict a play actually being performed on stage in front of an audience. John Gay's musical comedy, The Beggar's Opera, opened at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre in 1728 and was the greatest theatrical hit of its age. It was a parody of Italian opera with the action set in the criminal underworld of London. The actors wore modern dress and sang arias based on popular street ballads. Set in Newgate Prison, the scene shows Polly Peachum (the actress Lavinia Tenton) on the right and Lucy Locket (the jailer's daughter) on the left pleading for the life of the highwayman hero, Macheath. Members of the audience can be seen in boxes which occupy part of the stage. Lavinia Fenton as Polly is shown facing the Duke of Bolton who fell in love with her on the first night and attended all sixty-nine performances. She became his mistress and eventually his wife in 1751.

Purchased with a capital grant from the City of Birmingham, 1985.

Further Information

Production Period:18th century
Medium:Oil on canvas.
Material(s):Oil paint

Associated People


Height:492 mm
Width:566 mm