18th century painting of treehouse pub sparks intrigue

A painting of a pub perched high within a tree has sparked curiosity among historians and publicans alike, intrigued at the once possible existence of a pub in a treehouse.

Devis, Anthony; Landscape with a Hut in an Oak Tree and the 'Man in the Moon' Inn; Harris Museum & Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/landscape-with-a-hut-in-an-oak-tree-and-the-man-in-the-moon-inn-152019

Anthony Devis, Landscape with a Hut in an Oak Tree and the ‘Man in the Moon’ Inn (1785)

Painted around 1785 by Anthony Devis, Landscape with a Hut in an Oak Tree and the ‘Man in the Moon’ Inn, is currently on display at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston.

According to Get Surrey, Devis was born in Preston but settled in Surrey before his death in 1816. While the location of the painting is not specified, it has ignited online debate over whether the pub ever actually existed, or if it was merely plucked from Devis’ imagination.

If this is in fact a real location, some have suggested that the hill in the background to the left could be Box Hill in Dorking, given that Devis was known to have lived in the village of Albury, which is east of Guildford and near to Dorking. However quashing the dream somewhat, others have suggested that if it is a real location, it’s likely that the pub itself is actually to the left of the frame, with the wooden hut instead serving as a toll booth or welcome hut to the watering hole.

One online commentator speculated: “There were quite a few establishments called the ‘Man in the Moon’ at this time – three (at least) in London: Chelsea, Southwark and just off Regent Street. If this is a ‘real’ location, I would think that the inn was the building on the left and the tree house was a gazebo type out-building. The road appears to go to the right of the tree, so it would be better to put the sign there, rather than hidden away on the main building. An ‘inn’ would suggest it had rooms to let, and unless the tree house is a tardis, I can’t imagine anyone bedding down there, especially in the winter!”

While the idea of a pub in a tree might be an appealing novelty, there is also an argument to say that the entire landscape is fictitious and copied from a Dutch painting.

Another commentator, Amanda Draper, wrote: “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.”

Whatever its origin, we like the idea of a pub in a tree. For more extreme spots to sip a pint, check out db’s round up of unusual bars.

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