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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Rare and Stunning Watercolor by Noted Artist Thomas Rowlandson Compiled by Legendary 19th-Century Connoisseur Frank T. Sabin

Thomas Rowlandson
The Yorkshire Arms
8 5/8 x 11 5/8"
Framed: 24 x 20 1/2"
Watercolor on paper
On the mount is: "The Yorkshire Arms. Crawley."
Engraved in A Trip to Brighthelmstone." Unsigned

This vibrant, engaging watercolor is by the renowned British artist Thomas Rowlandson.  It was compiled and carefully chosen by the legendary early 19th-century collector and dealer Frank T. Sabin, and reflect the superb tastes and unrivaled eye of this most sophisticated connoisseur.  As such, the present selection forms an unprecedented assembly of highest quality original works by a luminary artist.

A renowned English caricaturist, watercolorist, draftsman and engraver, Rowlandson is commonly thought of as a satirist, though in truth most of his drawings are gently humorous records of urban and rustic life.  With the exception of a small number of topographical drawings, they are characterized by an abundance of picaresque incidents, whether robust or sentimental, and have much in common with the novels of Laurence Sterne and Henry Fielding, which Rowlandson illustrated in 1808 and 1809.  Although Rowlandson's reputation suffered in the prudish moral climate of Victorian England, by the mid-20th century he was recognized as one of the most brilliant draftsmen of his day.

Rowlandson's formation as an artist was begun when he entered the Royal Academy Schools in London in 1772 at the age of 16, and he was further influenced by his visit to Paris, two years later, where he encountered contemporary French painting.  He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1775, receiving a silver medal two years later.  He left the Academy Schools in 1778, setting up on his own in Wardour Street, London.  The easy elegance of Rowlandson's compositions and the highly Rococo treatment of landscape owe much both to French influence and to Gainsborough, whose work, among that of other artists, he was to engrave in Imitations of Modern Drawings (1788).  Rowlandson was also inspired by Rubens and Hogarth, and owned a number of engravings of their works. 

In the 1780s and 1790s, Rowlandson made a series of "sketching tours" around England.  In 1784 he journeyed from Salisbury to Portsmouth, in 1789 to Brighton, and to Wales in 1797.  On all of these he made series of vivid watercolors depicting the people and sights he had encountered, normally in an affectionately comic manner.  Such works, like the series illustrated here, reveal Rowlandson at his best -- capable of disposing large numbers of figures in elegant compositions, combining likeness and caricature, and showing deftness and sureness of execution.

In 1787 Rowlandson ceased to exhibit at the Royal Academy, despite a high reputation among his fellow artists and the patronage of the Prince of Wales (later George IV).  Rowlandson's decision may have been connected with the death of his aunt, who died in 1789, leaving him a substantial legacy.  By 1793 Rowlandson had gambled away his legacy and was living in poverty, despite his prodigious output of drawings and prints.  Rowlandson's fortunes changed in 1797, when he was first employed by Rudolph Ackermann, who had opened his print shop in the Strand, London, two years earlier.  Ackermann published a number of Rowlandson's works, popularizing him with a very wide audience.  For the next 20 years, until his death in 1827, most of Rowlandson's finest work was published by Ackermann.  Still, his rare original works remain the most direct means by which to see this great artist’s unimitable touch.

Literature: A. P. Oppé: Thomas Rowlandson: His Drawings and Watercolours (London, 1923); B. Falk: Thomas Rowlandson: His Life and Art (London, 1949); J. Hayes: Rowlandson Watercolours and Drawings (London, 1972); R. Paulson: Rowlandson: A New Interpretation (London, 1972); R. Wark: Drawings by Thomas Rowlandson in the Huntington Collection (San Marino, 1975); J. Baskett and D. Snelgrove: The Drawings of Thomas Rowlandson in the Paul Mellon Collection (London, 1977); Rowlandson drawings from the Paul Mellon Collection (exh. cat. by J. Riely, New Haven, CT, Yale Cent. Brit. A. and London, RA, 1978).

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