In the first of these two articles looking at paintings of the early history of the sport of badminton, I looked at its origins as a childhood game, in which two or more participants knock a shuttlecock between themselves, using a racquet known as a battledore. At some time in the middle of the nineteenth century, that knockabout game of battledore and shuttlecock was transformed into the sport of badminton, which is played competitively either side of a high net.
By 1806, when Franciscus Joseph Octave van der Donckt painted this Portrait of Sylvie de la Rue, battledore was attracting rather older players. There’s no sign of this young woman’s battledore, but there’s a multi-coloured shuttlecock on the wooden floor at her feet.
Anton Petter’s undated Children Playing in the Park shows them engaged in games of childhood: riding a sheep, and flying what looks to be a wooden pigeon, with a battledore and shuttlecock cast on the foreground.
Alexander Varnek’s portrait of the studious young Nikolai Alekseevich Tomilov (1814-1858), aged eleven when he painted this in 1825, holds his racquet and a bowl of cherries. On the desk in front of him is a rather posher-looking shuttlecock.
Somewhere around 1860-63, the new sport of badminton seems to have emerged, played by two ‘sides’ on either side of a net.
In about 1868, the Aestheticist artist Albert Joseph Moore painted what may have been a pair of young women holding their racquets and a Shuttlecock, showing its transition from childhood game (above and below). These are typical of Moore’s paintings in dressing their figures for more classical times, but engaging them in more contemporary activities, just as he did in The Quartet, a Painter’s Tribute to Music from the same year.
The painting which truly marks the coming of age of this new sport is Charles Law Coppard’s Summer Sports in the Garden of a Country House from 1878. In its foreground are two men wearing hats, one of them holding a cricket bat. Behind them a woman is engaged in archery, and at the left side are two badminton players with a net strung high between them, much as in the modern sport.
By this time, badminton clubs were being formed across Britain, and in 1887 the club in Bath published a set of regulations for the sport. It also appears to have become popular in continental Europe.
It was in about 1887 that Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted Young Girls Playing Badminton in his new classically-inspired style, with figures so sharp against its landscape that they appear cut-out. This didn’t go down well with critics at the time, or his dealer Durand-Ruel.
The following year, Charles Dickens’ son-in-law Charles Edward Perugini painted A Summer Shower, showing three young women caught out by a sudden shower when playing badminton.
Unfortunately, Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema’s Battledore and Shuttlecock is undated and I don’t know how much reliance can be placed on its title. Its players aren’t young children, suggesting that they may have played badminton when outdoors.
The name battledore lived on: Robert Anning Bell’s print from 1896 proclaims this in its title of Battledore, and there’s no sign of any net.
Vittorio Matteo Corcos’ undated An Elegant Player attests to the new sport’s popularity among the young and beautiful of Italy.
Finally, by 1922 when ‘Shunkō’ painted this Beauty Holding Shuttlecock and Paddle, shuttlecock games were known in East Asian art. This most probably shows a young Japanese player of Hanetsuki, 羽根突き or 羽子突き, a traditional game closer to battledore than badminton, played with a rectangular wooden hagoita and a shuttlecock.
Anyone for a game of battledore?