St. James Day


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'St. James' Day' by Richard Morton Paye (1751-1820).

This very large and exceptionally fine 18th century oil on canvas depicts a diverse crowd of Londoners at an oyster stand on a summer’s evening. The artist’s masterpiece, the painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1788. The street festival of St. James’ Day commenced at midnight on August 5th and was known as London’s ‘Oyster Day’.

  • More about the long history and new restoration of this important Georgian painting can be seen in the accompanying film.

Richard Morton Paye was one of the most gifted and innovative painters of early English School. ‘St. James’ Day’ is a wonderful record of life in London during the reign of King George III and is sold with provenance of ownership dating back over 240 years.

The Festival of St. James’ Day

Greengrocers rise at dawn of sun –

August the fifth – come haste away!

To Billingsgate the thousands run, –

‘Tis Oyster Day! – ’tis Oyster Day!

The above verse is taken from a poem popular during the reign of King George III which captures the excitement surrounding the arrival of the season’s first oysters at Billingsgate Market in London. August 5th marked the start of the oyster season in England and the celebrations – which included much drinking of alcohol as well the eating of oysters – began every year London at the stroke of midnight.

About the Artist

A contemporary (and rival) of Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, Richard Morton Paye was an innovative and skilful painter of scenes of everyday London life, often featuring children. Between 1773 and 1802 he exhibited 64 times at the Royal Academy, yet today, known works of his are few and far between.

In ‘St. James’ Day’ Paye uses the opportunity to take out his frustration with patrons and the self-appointed connoisseurs of the London art world by lampooning both. In the background, to the left, a well-to-do gentleman is being accosted by a drunkard who humiliates him by pulling off his wig. New research into the painting has revealed the man to be the most powerful art collector of the age, John Julius Angerstein (1735-1823) of whom Richard Morton Paye was clearly not a fan. Meantime, to the lower right, a vicious dog is pictured stealing a chicken and written on its collar is the word “critick”. It is worth noticing that Paye was also capable of turning his acerbic wit upon himself. Seen on the far left, looking directly out at us, is the artist himself, distracted by public attention and clearly unaware that he is being robbed by a pickpocket.

Dimensions: (framed) 127cm x 142cm (50” x 56”)

Dimensions: (canvas only) 102cm x 119cm (40” x 43”)

Medium: Oil on canvas.

Provenance: 1788; purchased by William Clay, Esq. of Upper Gower Street. (1748-1824). 1824; purchased by Johnson at Christie’s 5th June, lot 95. Julius Ernst Guthe, Kepwick Hall, Thirsk, North Yorkshire (1857-1917). Julius Ernst Guthe, Jr., Kepwick Hall, Thirsk, North Yorkshire (1885-1975). Digby J. E. Guthe, Silton Hall, Neither Silton, North Yorkshire (1927-1982).

Thence by descent in private UK collection.

Presentation: Newly commissioned bespoke gold metal leaf frame. All of the new frames we commission are especially made for us to order by one of the UK’s top period frame makers.

Condition: Very good. Newly professionally cleaned, conserved and re-varnished. Ready to hang. We do not sell dirty, damaged or unframed works of art.

Conservation: Professionally restored by Simon Gillespie Studio, as seen on BBC Television's 'Fake or Fortune' and 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces'.


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