tavern interior by john s c schaak 1762 pd

This striking painting is an interesting “slice of life” from the mid-18th century. It’s called Tavern Interior and was painted by J.S.C. (John) Schaak in 1762. Set in an inn or tavern, presumably in England, an officer sits down to a meal and a drink served by a waitress. Another soldier, in the colorful outfit of the dragoons, talking to a civilian man and a boy, perhaps his son. The place is well-stocked and there’s a sense of bounty and abundance. In addition to the freshly-killed game in the basket at lower right, there are various food items hanging in the kitchen at the upper left, including sausages, a duck, and a portion of what looks like a pig. While originally I thought there was supposed to be broken glass in various places on the floor, upon closer inspection it’s just damage to the surface of the painting itself.

I love the little details here. A rack on the back wall houses numerous pewter plates of various sizes; the officer’s meal is being served on one. There are various spits and other roasting tools above and next to the fireplace. There’s also a strange gangly contraption with chains on the upper right of the fireplace; I have no idea what it is or what it’s supposed to be for.

Although this is a relatively famous painting, I could find out very little about John S.C. Schaak. Despite his Dutch name he was active in Britain in the latter half of the 19th century. One of his pictures is a portrait of British General James Wolfe, who famously died after defeating the French at the Plains of Abraham, in Quebec, during the French and Indian War in 1759. Schaak was active until 1781; that may be the year he died but I don’t know for certain. Clearly the style of this picture puts him in the league of talented and conventional 18th century scene painters.

Sometimes the stories we don’t know about paintings are more interesting than the things we do know. Was this tavern a real place, I wonder? If so, where? Who was the officer in real life? Who was the waitress? Why did Schaak choose this subject? I have no idea, but pictures like these, even without being 100% accurate like a photograph, offer us tantalizing glimpses of what the world must have been like in centuries past.

This image is in the public domain. I believe the original is in a private collection.