The members had been Francophiles, or could have been French, who flaunted their love for all things French when the wars with France lulled between 1801 and 1830. Food historian Polly Russell nevertheless suggests that the Pic Nic Society lasted until 1850. The group’s intent was to supply theatrical entertainments and lavish meals adopted by gambling. There was no kitchen so all food needed to be made elsewhere. Each member was expected to provide a share of the entertainment and of the refreshments, with no one explicit host. The French Revolution popularized the picnic internationally. French aristocrats fled to different Western countries, bringing their picnicking traditions with them.
Cole’s properly-dressed younger picnickers having finished their repast, served from splint baskets on blue-and-white china, stroll about in the woodland and boat on the lake. The image of picnics as a peaceful social activity can be used for political protest.
Zapo reminds them that ‘self-discipline and hand-grenades are what’s wished in struggle, not visits’ but they ignore him and invite an enemy soldier to affix in their picnic. After wine and lacklustre conversation they start enthusiastically dancing to the pasodoble to the music of the phonograph they’ve introduced with them. Levy recounts ‘The shocked audience sits watching stretcher-bearers remove the our bodies, listening to a stuck phonograph needle repeat the pasodoble tune’. From the 1830s, Romantic American panorama work of spectacular surroundings typically included a group of picnickers in the foreground. An early American illustration of the picnic is Thomas Cole’s The Pic-Nic of 1846 . In it, a guitarist serenades the genteel social group within the Hudson River Valley with the Catskills visible in the distance.
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While these outside meals might be referred to as picnics there are, according to Levy, reasons not to do so. ‘The English’, he claims, ‘left the hunter’s meal unnamed till after 1806, once they started calling nearly any alfresco meal a picnic’. History shows us that the idea of a meal that was jointly contributed to and enjoyed out-of-doorways was important to picnic from the early nineteenth century.
In this context, a picnic features as a temporary occupation of great public territory. In 1802, a modern group of over 200 aristocratic Londoners formed the Pic Nic Society.