Completed British 18th C, except portraits, North West England: Artists and Subjects 23 New information found regarding the ''Man in the Moon' Inn'

Landscape with Hut in Oak Tree and the 'Man in the Moon' Inn
Topic: Subject or sitter

I have some clearer understanding of this picture.

I recently saw a painting by Carel de Hooch of a similar scene – the building in the tree is a Dovecote. This led me to this painting by Jan Steen in the Lugt collection:

I think the same reading of the picture applies here, i.e. dovecote next to an inn = house of ill repute.

This explanation would support the Inn/scene being fictional.

Further opinion would be welcome.

Tim Williams, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Jade Audrey King,

This discussion is now closed and the collection have added additional information to their records. Many thanks to all who contributed.

To those viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all comments that led to this conclusion.


Justin Grant-Duff,

It looks like an insert of a much bigger canvas.

The Man in the Moon was a well known motif for public house. In Herefordshire there was a famous pub named thus. Nothing to do with prostitution *or ill-repute" but rather with literary references. Dr Johnson was a frequent visitor to inns on his travels for a tankard or two. Pub signs come from events, factual or otherwise in history and literature.

Amanda Draper,

Knowing this painting well, I can assure Justin that the work is neither cut down from a larger canvas nor created with any intention to give the appearance that it is. Perhaps the digitisation process creates some distortion, but in reality Devis presents a well-balanced composition.

Patty Macsisak,

"In the 17th century Captain Cook saw inhabited tree houses in Tasmania. As Captain Cook and his fellow explorers reported back on treehouses, they became fashionable as playhouses and retreats for the rich and royal."

Via Google eBooks
Title An Uncommon History of Common Things
Authors Bethanne Kelly Patrick, John Milliken Thompson
Edition illustrated
Publisher National Geographic Books, 2009
ISBN 1426204205, 9781426204203
Length 303 pages
Page 157

See also...

Osmund Bullock,

I think the authors are a bit confused about their centuries. While tree houses were, as your link shows, already around in England in the late 17th Century, Captain Cook most certainly was not!

Patty Macsisak,

The tree on which the treehouse rests was still alive when the painting was executed and the main branch is similar to the one supporting the treehouse at Pitchford Hall. I acknowledge that the octagonal structure in the painting is not consistent with the square Pitchford treehouse, but I wonder if it could be an earlier incarnation.

Osmund Bullock,

I doubt the tree in our painting is meant to be a lime - more like an old oak. But whatever species, its very decrepit state in the picture would surely not have allowed it to throw out such substantial new limbs since. This is confirmed by an image at the bottom of this page, of the tree and its house in 1855 :

Another problem is that the Pitchford tree-house was built and remains on a private estate - I've seen no suggestion it was ever near a public house. And according to the man from English Heritage, its earlier (or earliest) form, before the C18th rebuild, had "render all over it, to look like a stone building perched in the tree", though I suppose that could have fallen away. See:

Patty Macsisak,

Did you notice that in the 1855 image of the Pitchford treehouse, the structure was square and is remarkably similar to the painting in question?

Amanda Draper,

Thank you to everyone who has contributed so far to this interesting discussion. Having undertaken more research on the painting in the Harris’ archives, and stood in their gallery with my nose against the painting for some considerable time, I am siding with Tim in the belief that the painting shows us a fictitious scene.

Here are the sources I have consulted:
Harris Museum & Art Gallery archive: Anthony Devis files & acquisition correspondence files
Sydney Pavière: The Devis Family of Painters. Leigh-on-Sea, F. Lewis Ltd., 1950.
Stephen Whittle: Anthony Devis, ‘A Picturesque Traveller’(exhibition catalogue). Preston, Harris Museum & Art Gallery, 1993. Plus conversations with Stephen in person.

Devis and his influences:
The Man in the Moon Inn is atypical of Devis. Rather, he is known for his gentle topographical vistas, many of which were commissions from the aristocracy and landed gentry who wanted their lands and houses recorded. But he also copied or adapted the compositions of artists like Claude Lorrain and Poussin, while other paintings demonstrate the influence of 17th century Dutch landscape artists such as Jan Wijnants, Adriaen van de Velde and Jacob van Ruisdael. (Whittle) It is also worth knowing that Devis created a number of Continental and Irish views that were clearly derived from prints as he never, as far as evidence tells, left British shores. It is therefore plausible that The Man in the Moon Inn was a commission from a client who had asked for a painting based on a known Dutch original, such as the de Hooch dovecote scenes posted by Tim. It may have been influenced by a painting Devis saw in another client’s collection or was taken from his own large collection of prints.

The subject:
Although Patty’s suggestion that the elevated structure is based on the tree-house at Pitchford Hall in Shropshire has merit, Shropshire does not figure in the list of locations Devis painted so it is less likely than Tim’s dovecote theory. (Pavière)(Harris Archive). Osmund’s comment that the tree-house is not adjacent to an inn also supports this.

In our previous discussion of the painting it was decided that the elevated structure was not the actual inn, but was being used as an annexe for it. Attached is a photo showing the building to the left and, indeed, another pub sign with a moon can just be discerned. Devis demonstrates quite an impish sense of humour throughout his work generally and I suggest his juxtaposition of the elevated structure with the ‘man in the moon’ sign is a shared joke with the viewer. The second attached image hopefully clarifies what the two characters are doing in the tree; one is smoking a white pipe while the other seems to be fishing from the pond beneath.

Devis makes the supporting tree an extravagant foil to the structure it bears. This is the only element of the composition typical of his work: Devis loved trees. Amongst his library was a copy of John Evelyn’s ‘Sylva, or a discourse of Forest Trees’(1664) and he made a pilgrimage to some of the trees mentioned in ‘Sylva’ and painted them. (Whittle)

Provenance and attribution:
The Man in the Moon Inn was purchased by the Harris in 1952 from the London-based art dealer Robert Frank (the uncle of Anne Frank, incidentally). Unfortunately, no earlier provenance for the painting has come to light so far. The firm attribution to Anthony Devis was given by Sydney Pavière, who was Director of the Harris at the time and oversaw the purchase. (Harris archive) Pavière obviously believed the painting dated after 1780 when Devis settled in Albury, Surrey and that the inn was located in that county. Because Pavière is still considered the definitive expert on the Devis family of painters, his suggestion has only just been challenged.

This is the second discussion querying the location of The Man in the Moon Inn. The first discussion concluded that the scene was probably a fantasy. Tim revived the discussion after finding de Hooch paintings that show similar structures and compositions. As Devis is known to have copied elements from French and Dutch Old Masters for his work, it reinforces the conclusion that this an imaginary scene and suggests that he blended elements of a Dutch original with a humorous take on a British pub name and his love of an extravagant tree.

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Louis Musgrove,

Hang about- pity we didn't have the quality of the above above images before. The inn is obviously not a british building- really not the type of timber frames in this country.
Secondly I see no pond beneath to fish in- Is there a bird on the stump to the right of the boy?????
Thirdly the provenance may well indicate a European sourced painting with an incorrect attribution. Things were done after the war!!!!!!

Osmund Bullock,

I can't see a pond either (nor a bird, but perhaps I'm looking in the wrong place).

I entirely agree with Louis about locality, too. Look at the left-hand figure in the first detail - very un-British, but to my eye decidedly Dutch-looking. I think (pace Sydney Pavière) it's time to question the attribution to Devis - instead of talking about all the Dutch influences, is there any good reason why it cannot *be* Dutch? I know nothing about Dutch painting, however, so I expect to be (patiently, I hope) put right by those who do.

Amanda Draper,

The pond (or it may be a stream) is directly beneath the figures leaning out of the dovecote/tree-house. It appears very shallow and that, I suggest, is another joke by the artist. I omitted to take a photo of the pond but the painting is on display if anyone wishes to go and look for themselves (Gallery 5/purple room). Incidentally, the photos were not previously available because I only visited the Harris last week.

Attribution of the painting.
Attributions are, of course, always open for reappraisal but I do feel that it would be a red herring here. Pavière spent 30 years as Director of the Harris and saw hundreds upon hundreds of Anthony Devis paintings and sketches. The Harris has a huge collection and he studied as many elsewhere as he could find. He was a serious, scholarly man whose academic reputation in his day was of international standing. Stephen Whittle worked at the Harris for 10 years on the same collection and is, I believe, the only living person to have researched and curated an exhibition on Anthony Devis. They never doubted The Man in the Moon was by Devis and, if you looked at another Devis oil painting such as ‘Landscape with House on the Edge of a Wood’, you will see that it does exhibit many the artist’s stylistic traits. (see attached)

I stress again that Devis had a tendency to pastiche French and Dutch Masters so seeing elements of these in his work is not incongruous.

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Louis Musgrove,

So if you are saying this is a pastiche of a European theme- you have answered your own original question.

Amanda Draper,

The original query was posted by Rachel Collings in June 2014 and revived by Tim Williams this July. Hopefully we are all getting closer to a consensus that we can recommend to the owning collection.

Amanda, please repost your clear and thorough conclusion of a week ago and select the Response Type "Recommendation to PCF". You will have to be logged in for this option to be available.

Amanda Draper,

Thanks Andrew. And thanks again to everyone who contributed to this interesting discussion on a painting that has long been an enigma.

This has been the 2nd discussion querying the location of The Man in the Moon Inn. The first discussion concluded that the scene was probably a fantasy. Tim revived the discussion after finding de Hooch paintings that show similar structures and compositions. As Devis is known to have copied (or pastiched) elements from French and Dutch Old
Masters for his work, it reinforces the conclusion that this is an imagined scene and suggests that he blended elements of a Dutch original with a humorous take on a Britsh pub name and his love of an extravagant tree.

If Lindsey and the rest of the Harris team agree, it is recommended that the title remains the same but they may wish to add to their records the evidence that Devis was influenced by Dutch artists such as De Hooch and Steen.

Jade Audrey King,

The collection has been contacted specifically about this recommendation.

Tim Williams,

Just a quick note (before the discussion is closed) - I'm sure it hasn't gone unnoticed, but in the other Devis picture Amanda attached there is a dovecote to the left of the house.

Harris Museum & Art Gallery,

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this lively discussion, and thank you Amanda for your recent research trip to the Harris and your interesting and clear conclusion. I agree, the title should remain the same but I will add this additional information to our records.