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THE TORRENT HOUSE COLLECTION
A distinguished career in the early post war years of film, graphic design and typography allowed David Harris to indulge an art school student passion for the works of Thomas Rowlandson. It reflected his own robust sense of humour of the 'everyday' and his admiration of the artist's draftsmanship and use of pure watercolour to record the life and times of the 18th and 19th Centuries.
WATERCOLOURS BY THOMAS ROWLANDSON
'The greatest master of pure line that England has ever had the good fortune to produce' (Osbert Sitwell, 'Thomas Rowlandson' Sing High! Sing Low!, London, 1944, p. 132.)
Rowlandson was not only a brilliant draughtsman, but probably the most popular artist of the Georgian period. His mature drawing style had developed by the mid 1780s and although his style and technique remained consistent thereafter, the subject matter he was drawn to was diverse. Little is known about the man himself, the only surviving contemporary records are two obituaries, a few letters and the rather inaccurate reminiscences of two of his closest friends, John Bannister, the famous actor-manager (1760-1836) and Henry Angelo, the fashionable fencing master (1760-1839?). Children of a bankrupt wool and silk merchant, Rowlandson and his sister were brought up by an Aunt of French extraction in Soho. His aunt was proud of his talent and in 1772, when he was sixteen, enrolled him at the Royal Academy Schools. Although he exhibited his first drawing at the Royal Academy Summer exhibition the previous year, his earliest surviving drawing is of a bench of artists at the Royal Academy in 1776, which shows the influence of John Hamilton Mortimer, A.R.A. (1741-1779). The following year he was awarded the Academy's silver medal, however he was almost expelled for carrying a pea-shooter into the Life Academy '...whilst old Moser was adjusting the female model, and had just directed her contour, Rowlandson let fly a pea, which making her start, she threw herself entirely out of position, and interrupted the gravity of the study for the whole evening.' (H. Angelo, Reminiscences, London, 1830, vol. I, p. 262).
As Rowlandson rarely dated drawings it is impossible to reconstruct his style from the late 1770s to the great drawings of the mid 1780s, for example Vauxhall Gardens (Victoria and Albert Museum, London). However in addition to Mortimer, John Hayes has suggested the influence of Frances Wheatley, R.A. (1747-1801) and Philip James de Loutherbourg, R.A. (1740-1812) and the elegance in the arrangement of his compositions, and the lively rococo line, as well as his use of colour is 'unmistakeably french' (J. Hayes, Rowlandson Watercolours and Drawings, London, 1972, p. 33). Around the 1780s as he was making a name for himself as a skilful and amusing commentator on society, he was also making a name for himself as a successful satirist and political commentator, especially concerning the Duchess of Devonshire's role in the acrimonious 1784 election between William Pitt and Charles James Fox. After 1787 Rowlandson no longer showed his work in any of the public exhibiting bodies so there are few details recorded about who purchased them, though the Prince Regent was noted as purchasing two in 1786.
In 1789 Rowlandson's aunt died leaving him a legacy of a few thousand pounds. He had an addiction to gambling and his obiturist in The Gentleman's Magazine comments on how his inheritance allowed him to indulge 'his predilection for a joyous life ...'. Conscious of his father's bankruptcy he knew that he could replenish his purse through drawing and would apparently say 'I have played the fool; but holding up his pencils, 'here is my resource,'' (J. Hayes, op.cit, p. 18).
From 1798-1822 he worked closely with the publisher Rudolph Ackermann on a number of books including The Loyal Volunteers of London, 1799, The Microcosm of London, 1808-1810 and The Three Tours of Dr Syntax, 1812-1821. In 1825 his health broke down and he died of a stroke two years later. He was buried at the church of St Paul's, Covent Garden, London and his funeral was attended by his friends Jack Bannister, Henry Angelo and his publisher Rudolph Ackermann.