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with The Covent Garden Gallery, London.
with The Fine Art Society, London.
Collection of K.A.T. Davey, C.B.; Christies, London, 24 November 1998, lot 69, when acquired by the present owner.
Drawings and Watercolours in the Forbes Collection
The drawings and watercolours in the Forbes Collection form a significant complement to the paintings, and serve to emphasise the richness and depth of the collection as a whole. As might be expected, they likewise echo the predominant mode in Victorian art, that of the narrative. The grander themes of the previous generation, neoclassicism and romanticism, had largely been rejected by an audience that now demanded more accessible subject matter, requiring also - as the Art-Union noted in 1840 - that the spectator's 'sympathy must be gained - sensibility must be excited - and the observer be made to identify himself with the subject, which can hardly be expected when he is called upon to weep with Hecuba or to rage with Achilles.' This anti-heroic strand in British art may be traced back to Hogarth, who found his subject matter in modern life, setting forth the moral implications of human actions in his famous sequences of paintings and engravings, and whose example was to find a significant following in the mid-nineteenth century in the work of artists like Wilkie, Egg and Frith among others. Perhaps, therefore, it is no surprise that the earliest group of drawings in the Forbes Collection is that by an artist owing much to Hogarth, Thomas Rowlandson (lots 185-199), whose effortlessly fluent draughtsmanship and robust sense of comic narrative were unmatched. He used his pen to mock the follies of contemporary life, and since mankind's follies are apparently infinite, so too are Rowlandson's quirky, sardonic and humorous observations. In the context of the Forbes Collection, he takes on the role of a precursor in the development of the nineteenth-century genre tradition.
Literary sources provided numerous themes. But in place of ennobling subjects drawn from remote classics, works familiar to British audiences, ranging from Shakespeare to popular historical novels and poetry, supplied readily understood incidents. Maclise's Play Scene from 'Hamlet', based on a production of the play by Charles Kemble (lot 81), or Millais' illustration to Scott's novel Peveril of the Peak (lot 77), are characteristic of the literary-historical genre, while the study for Wilkie's Sancho Panza in the Days of his Youth (lot 304), together with C.R. Leslie's Sancho Panza in the Apartment of the Duchess (lots 78-80), is a reminder of the enormous mid-century popularity of Cervantes. Richard Dadd's Polyphemus discovered asleep (lot 228) is also illustrative (his source was probably the Idylls of Theocritus, in which the monster is a figure of fun and amazement, something like Bottom rather than the bloodthirsty creature of the Odyssey). It is dated 1852, when Dadd was an inmate in the hermetic environment of Bethlem Hospital, and is painted with the minute, almost Pre-Raphaelite attention to detail that is characteristic of Dadd's obsessive and visually compelling style.
The underlying assumption that the function of a picture was to illustrate or to tell a story found its ultimate fulfilment in 'problem pictures', which required the participation of the spectator to invent a narrative that would resolve the dilemma posed by the artist. This genre took its simplest form in straightforwardly narrative sequences such as Philip Morris's The Farewell and The Return (lot 118). E.H. Corbould's Cold (lot 112), dated 20 January 1869, is an outstanding example of the complexities, both narrative and moral, that could be encompassed. A literally frozen woman lies dead or unconscious - perhaps fallen in more senses than one - crumpled on steps that lead somewhere unknown, perhaps to her home. Has she been cast out, or has she returned, only to be rejected? The fate of transgressing or abandoned women fascinated a range of nineteenth-century artists and writers. Why is she abondoned and alone? Has she fainted from hunger and cold? The whiteness of the snow seems to denote purity at odds with her apparently defiled state, while the robin hopping back to its own nest emphasises her displacement. The image is replete with ambiguities. Fred Walker's At the Sick Man's Door (lot 120), also dating from the 1860s, is another example. It is based on one of the artist's illustrations to Thackeray's novel Philip, but as an independent watercolour it poses such questions as why a man and a woman in mourning dress are knocking at the door of an invalid; are they bringing comfort, or perhaps breaking bad news? The contrast between health and sickness, and the theme of endurance through strife, were the subjects of other works by Walker, one of the most original illustrators of the period, who enjoyed a brief but much lauded career at the R.A. and the R.W.S. before his early death from consumption in 1875. Together with G.J. Pinwell (lot 351) and J.W. North, he formed a loosely associated group of artists, later dubbed the Idyllists. Their work, subsequently much admired by the young Van Gogh, may be seen as transitional between genre and the harsher realities of social realism. One may also include here the surprising figure of Helen Allingham, whose Harvest Moon globed in Mellow Splendour (lot 54), showing a reaper making his way homewards, has more in common with the work of the Idyllists than with her own more familiar nostalgic cottage subjects.
The widespread economic depression of the 1870s brought about a shift in taste to more earnest, sober and socially-aware subjects. Of those artists most closely involved with The Graphic, the pioneering illustrated magazine concerned with exposing conditions in the lowest depths of contemporary life, Luke Fildes (lot 113), Frank Holl (lot 114) and Hubert von Herkomer (lot 18) were the leading figures. Fildes is represented here by one of his most famous images, Homeless and Hungry, based on an engraving of the same title, published in the 1869 Christmas edition of The Graphic (which apparently persuaded Dickens to commission him to illustrate his last and never-completed novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood). This was also the basis for his famous picture Applicants for Admissions to a Casual Ward (paupers queuing for a night's shelter), exhibited at the R.A. in 1874 (Royal Holloway College, London), which created such a sensation that it required police to supervise those who crowded to see it. Such works crystallised moments of anonymous misery and despair, and show artists engaged with the most difficult social issues of the period. Another approach to realism may be seen in the many attempts from Holman Hunt onwards to achieve historical accuracy in the depiction of biblical and classical subjects. In an overwhelmingly Protestant country, works of devotional piety found little response, but presented as reconstructions of historical events they were often hugely popular. Sir Edward Poynter, who was to become President of the R.A. in 1896, was one of the chief exponents, making use of his training as an accomplished academic draughtsman in Gleyre's atelier. His early version of The Prodigal's Return (lot 164), together with a group of preparatory figure studies (lots 165-8), c. 1868-9, demonstrates his working methods. A further variation on the treatment of historical and classical themes was the choice of mediaeval or exotic subjects, like Chivalry by Dicksee (another future P.R.A.), for which there is both a preparatory pencil drawing and a fine watercolour study (lots 82-3), or Walter Crane's Wagnerian Lohengrin of 1895 (lot 236). An artist whose work hovered on the borders between Pre-Raphaelitism and Symbolism was the curiously fascinating Simeon Solomon, here represented by his Heliogabalus, Hight Priest of the Sun (lot 132), a watercolour that seems almost to exhale sensual drifts of incense.
With the advent of the Aesthetic Movement in the 1870s and 1880s, the primacy of narrative art was challenged. In its purest form, Aestheticism is represetned here by the work of Albert Moore (lot 136). It was never a style that found wide popularity, save as the butt of ridicule in Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience and in Punch jokes, but in a more diluted form was to be of considerable influence, especially on ideas of interior decoration. Kate Hayllar's watercolour A Thing of Beauty is a Joy forever (lot 263), which complements other remarkable works by her sisters in the Collection, takes Keats's line as an aesthetic mantra in the depiction of an interior which reflects the good taste of the middle-class owners. All in harmonious, ordered and pleasing, the fasionable Japanese elements presided over by Raphael's serene Madonna, a hint perhaps that the home is a woman's work of art. At much the same time as Aesthetic ideals were reshaping metropolitan taste, landscape painting was being revivified by a new generation influenced by the principles of French plein-air artists. The Newlyn School was a leading force, and Norman Garstin one of its key figures (lot 121). He had a remarkable career that included diamond prospecting and journalism in South Africa, as well as studying painting in Paris under Carolus Duran before settling in Newlyn. This portrait study of him by his fellow Newlyn artist William John Wainwright is one of the finest and most evocative watercolours in the Collection, but it also irresistibly brings to mind a contemporary's remark: 'If Mr Garstin held himself any straighter, he would fall over backwards'.
Like the paintings collection, the drawings and watercolours gathered together by Christopher Forbes trace the shifting developments in British nineteenth century art, amplifying and enriching our understanding of the pleasures as well as the complexities of the era.
Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827)
'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.
The group of Rowlandsons that form part of the Forbes Collection clearly demonstrate the diversity of his style, his strength of line and his idiosyncratic view of human life.