As an enthusiastic Londoner, Haydon wanted to catch the city’s fizz and energy in this picture, as well as the enduring traditions of ‘Old England’ such as the festivities of May Day. The image depicts a crowd of mixed classes, ages and races mingling with a costumed procession and a Punch and Judy show in the Marylebone Road. Originally Haydon planned on calling the picture ‘Life’. A history painter by preference, Haydon believed his own art was under appreciated.
Benjamin Robert Haydon
Haydon: Punch or May Day
1505 x 1851 mm
Oil paint on canvas
Date of work
Bequeathed by George Darling 1862
Born 1786, Haydon was an English painter, teacher and writer. After an unhappy apprenticeship to his father, he entered the Royal Academy, London, in 1805. He was an enthusiastic student who became interested in anatomy.
Haydon was incredibly impressed by the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon frieze, which he made drawings of in 1808. Unfortunately the marbles encouraged Haydon’s preferences for working on vast scales. Some of his works took six years, during which time he refused to work on anything else and was effectively without income. Haydon’s habits to concentrate solely on projects lead him into debt and he suffered a series of bankruptcies and imprisonments starting in 1823.