Sail boats compete in a ‘water frolic’ (an East Anglian term for a regatta) on the River Bure at Wroxham in Norfolk. Spectators cluster in stationary boats along the river’s edge and on a thatched boat house on the river. A paddle steamer is seen in the centre of the composition, while to the right a smaller vessel holds a band, playing a musical accompaniment to the event.
This painting is by Robert Ladbrooke, who painted several similar scenes including large groups of figures. A similar view titled ‘The Water Frolic on the River Bure at Wroxham, Norfolk’, painted by Ladbrooke’s son, John Berney Ladbrooke (1803-1879), passed through Sotheby’s on 5 June 2008. Father and son presumably travelled together to the ‘water frolic’. While John sketched the river view on which his painting is based from the bank, his father was positioned a little further up river, perhaps on a boat. The boat house to the right of the scene, from which well-dressed gentlemen and ladies watch the event, is seen in the far distance of John’s painting. In the background of both works Hoveton House, around this time the home of the Reverend Thomas Calthorpe Blofield, can be seen in the distance, helping to confirm the location.
Robert Ladbrooke, Norwich School painter of landscapes and portraits, was the brother-in-law of John Crome, with whom he founded the Norwich Society of Artists in 1805. In about 1811 he quarrelled with Crome and set up a rival society. He exhibited regularly at both societies and usually his subjects were Norfolk landscapes and coastal scenes. He also exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1809 and at the British Institution from 1811. His style was continued by his sons, Henry, John Berney and Frederick Ladbrooke.
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