Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Genesis of Rowdy Rowlandson

Thomas Rowlandson is often disregarded when we think of great artists of the eighteenth century. You may have noticed from this blog's banner that I am quite a fan of the sometimes raunchy satirical artist. So, for those who are not familiar with him, let me introduce Rowlandson to you.

Rowlandson's artistic talent was noticed from a young age. But the artist was not without his own initial setbacks. For one, he was not the son of an artist, his father was a simple city tradesman from Old Jewry, London. Still, education was a priority in the Rowlandson household and this city boy spent his youth in school. His big break came at the age of sixteen when he was given the opportunity to be a student at the illustrious Royal Academy and then later study in Paris. He first exhibited a painting in 1775 and was on a nice, productive roll. Then, disaster. You know those fictional aunts we all wish we had that die and leave you obscene amounts of money in their wills? Well, Rowlandson had a non-fiction one who left him £7,000 when she died. Rowlandson did what anyone else living in 18th century London would do with that money. He gambled it away until he was penniless.

Rowlandson needed to get back on his feet, and fast. His friends Henry Bunbury and James Gillray, who just happened to be caricaturists, suggested he take upon their 'lower' form of art. That way he could produce work faster and generate money from selling prints. He began slowly, with his drawing of Vauxhall which bordered on satirical, by displaying the great celebrities of the time. While the drawing was exhibited, prints were selling left and right. Rowlandson decided this caricature gig might not be so bad after all. Soon enough he was pumping out satirical images which has given us some of the best political, social, and celebrity commentary of the time.


  1. I think this guy's marvelous! He's got a nack for depicting so realistically that it's simply too funny...you never know where your talents will lead you:)

  2. I've always been keen on Rowlandson but never knew his path to satire. And a friend of Gillray? Can you imagine the conversations those two had? Hahaha! I can just imagine....

  3. Oh, I adore Rowlandson! (You can probably tell since my banner also features a segment of the same work as yours ;) I love his style, I am often inspired by it. He reminds me in some ways of the more monochromatically inclined victorian Aubrey Beardsley, who developed his method for similar reasons - and also because he knew he would die young and wanted to churn out as much stuff as possible, which meant pens over paintbrushes :)

  4. I absolutely adore this artist, naughty images and all. His depiction of his era makes it come alive. My most recent post features on of his images of servants looking for work at a registry office. Of course, Rowlandson has the old tart gaping at a young handsome buck, and an old lecher regarding a likely young maid.