Old Master & 19th Century Paintings, Drawings & Watercolours Day
7 July 2010
London, King Street
Michael 'Angelo' Rooker, A.R.A. (London 1743-1801)
The interior of the Pantheon, Oxford Street with Mr Wilson's experiments with an electrical machine
with inscription 'Interior of the Pantheon Oxford St with B Wilson performing experiments with Electrical machines' (on a fragment of the old mount attached to the backboard)
pencil, pen and grey ink and watercolour, on paper, watermark 'I PORTAL'
9¼ x 12¼ in. (23.5 x 31.1 cm.); sold with the engraving by J. Basire entitled 'A View of the Apparatus and part of the Great Cylinder in the Pantheon', the frontispiece for Wilson's book, 'An Account of the Experiments made at the Pantheon on the Nature and Use of Conductors', London, 1778 (2)
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Property from the Collection of the late John Appleby
Edward Basil Jupp; Christie's, London, 6 May 1884, part of lot 229 (195 gns to Waller).
Thomas Stauffer moore and by descent to
Elizabeth Richardson Simmons, New York; Christie's, London, 12 November 1968, lot 157 (1600 gns to Appleby).
P. Conner, Michael Angelo Rooker (1746-1801), London, 1984, pp. 24-5, 97, fig. 49.
J. Basire, London, 1778.
Between 1774 and 1792 Rooker gave his address as 'opposite the Museum, Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury', where he was a neighbour of Benjamin Wilson (they had both previously lived in Great Queen Street).
The present drawing is a 'unique record of a remarkable occasion' (Conner, op.cit., p. 97).
The experiment depicted in the present drawing was conducted by Benjamin Wilson, portrait painter, in his capacity as scientist. Before Fellows of the Royal Society and members of the Board of Ordinance, he operated his great cylinder to stimulate the effects of a thunderstorm and was to conduct fifty experiments with it.
This series of experiments took place after a storm in May 1777 in which the gunpowder magazine at Purfleet was struck, despite being fitted with pointed conductors. Wilson believed that pointed conductors were largely ineffectual and with the support of King George III he set out to prove that round-headed conductors were more efficent. Wilson produced a paper for the Royal Society and the present drawing was engraved as frontispiece.
The Pantheon was built by James Wyatt, and opened as Assembly Rooms in 1772. It was used for concerts, theatrical events and special exhibitions and in 1784 Lunardi exhibited his balloon there. It became the King's Theatre in 1791 and was destroyed by fire on 14 January 1792, and the ruins were subsequently sketched by William Marlow and J.M.W. Turner.