Thomas Rowlandson  

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"We object—strongly object—to the absurd form of the taper, which the gentleman holds in his hand. It looks more like a carrot than the genuine article. It burns brightly enough, but the shape is monstrously unreal—as any fair devotee will know."--Ironic remark on The Wanton Frolic by John Camden Hotten

"I'll prose it here, I'll verse it there,
And picturesque it ev'ry where"

--The Tour of Dr Syntax in Search of the Picturesque (1812) by William Combe and Thomas Rowlandson

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Thomas Rowlandson (July 14, 1756April 22, 1827) was an English caricaturist, known for such designs as "An entertainment in Vauxhall Gardens". He also produced a body of bawdy prints and woodcuts such as Pretty Little Games for Young Ladies and Gentlemen, Goodbye and Such Things Are, or A Peep Into Kensington Gardens. Most of these are described by Henry Spencer Ashbee in A list of Rowlandson's etchings. His work had affinities with the French Rococo of Fragonard (Rowlandson had studied in France).



Rowlandson’s designs were usually done in outline with the reed-pen, and delicately washed with colour. They were then etched by the artist on the copper, and afterwards aquatinted --usually by a professional engraver, the impressions being finally coloured by hand. As a designer he was characterized by the utmost facility and ease of draughtsmanship, and the quality of his art suffered from this haste and over-production. He dealt less frequently with politics than his fierce contemporary, Gillray, but commonly touching, in a rather gentle spirit, the various aspects and incidents of social life. His most artistic work is to be found among the more careful drawings of his earlier period; but even among the exaggerated caricature of his later time we find hints that this master of the humorous might have attained to the beautiful had he so willed.


He was born in Old Jewry, in the City of London, the son of a tradesman or city merchant. On leaving school he became a student at the Royal Academy. At the age of sixteen, he lived and studied for a time in Paris, and he later made frequent tours to the Continent, enriching his portfolios with numerous jottings of life and character. In 1775 he exhibited a drawing of Delilah visiting Samson in Prison, and in the following years he was represented by various portraits and landscapes. He was spoken of as a promising student; and had he continued his early application he would have made his mark as a painter. But by the death of his aunt, a French lady, he inherited £7,000, plunged into the dissipations of the town and was known to sit at the gaming-table for thirty-six hours at a stretch.

In time poverty overtook him; and the friendship and example of James Gillray and Henry William Bunbury seem to have suggested caricature as a means of filling an empty purse. His drawing of "An entertainment in Vauxhall Gardens", shown in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1784, had been engraved by Pollard, and the print was a success. Rowlandson was largely employed by Rudolph Ackermann, the art publisher, who in 1809--issued in his Poetical Magazine The Schoolmaster’s Tour--a series of plates with illustrative verses by Dr. William Combe. They were the most popular of the artist’s works. Again engraved by Rowlandson himself in 1812, and issued under the title of the Tour of Dr Syntax in Search of the Picturesque, they had attained a fifth edition by 1813, and were followed in 1820 by Dr Syntax in Search of Consolation, and in 1821 by the Third Tour of Dr Syntax in Search of a Wife.

The same collaboration of designer, author and publisher appeared in the English Dance of Death, issued in 1814-16, one of the most admirable of Rowlandson’s series, and in the Dance of Life, 1822. Rowlandson also illustrated Smollett, Goldsmith and Sterne, and his designs will be found in The Spirit of the Public Journals (1825), The English Spy (1825), and The Humourist (1831). He died in London, after a prolonged illness, on 22 April 1827.

His work included a personification of the United Kingdom named John Bull who was developed from about 1790 in conjunction with other British satirical artists such as Gillray and George Cruikshank.

Selected list of prints

See also

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