Fairfax House, York, 29 July – 31 December 2016.
From exotica to erotica, In Pursuit of Pleasure opens a window onto the outrageous and sometimes shocking behaviour of ‘polite society’—conducted in the name of entertainment.
Fairfax House’s major summer exhibition will look at the social scene in English towns and cities including London, delving into the tempting array of decadent activities and pleasurable pursuits catering for all tastes and predilections, sometimes challenging the notions of what ‘polite’ entertainment encompassed in the eighteenth century. In Pursuit of Pleasure also specifically uncovers the richness of Georgian York’s offerings as the social capital of the North and the place to see and be seen. With Burlington’s exquisite new Assembly Rooms, the excitement of the races, as well as the city’s renowned Theatre Royal, the city enjoyed a social and cultural renaissance. The explosion of luxury retail experiences combined to make York the destination of choice for those in pursuit of refined amusement. As well as exploring its lively winter season with rounds of dinners, balls, assemblies and parties, the exhibition delves into the city’s debauched diversions, including ‘polite’ society’s taste for notorious trials, visiting prisons and public hangings, the wanton pleasures available in the city’s brothels, as well as raucous activities such as cockfighting, bear baiting and street boxing. In exploring the full gamut of York’s lively social and cultural life In Pursuit of Pleasure reveals a fascinating world of the city’s exuberant, and often times murky, past.