Thomas Rowlandson after Sir Joshua Reynolds, Count Ugolino… c. 1773

If one were to imagine the sort of painting likely to capture the imagination of the caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson then it’s unlikely that Sir Joshua Reynold’s Count Ugolino and his Children in the Dungeon would be the first image to spring to mind. Rowlandson’s obvious love of bawdy humour and scenes of convivial sociability seems at odds with this rather austere meditation on suffering and death. However, it is precisely that fact which marks out this pencil and watercolour painting as something a little bit special. For it is likely that when Thomas Rowlandson sat down to sketch out this picture, all of that – the caricatures, the teeming street scenes, the raunchy erotica – still lay ahead of him. Because in all probability he drew this image when he was still a 15 or 16 year old boy studying at the Royal Academy of Arts.

Given the arc of Rowlandson’s subsequent career as an engraver of humour prints (not to mention illegal pornography), it’s sometimes easy to forget that he also pursued a very successful career as a serious artist. His watercolour landscapes found their way into some of the finest collections in the land and were a direct influence on the early work of J.M.W. Turner. He also possessed impeccable artistic credentials – not only being one of the few caricaturists to have studied art at the prestigious Royal Academy School but to also succeed in winning a place there at the unusually young age of 15. The Academy had been founded by King George III four years earlier in 1768 in an effort to raise the status of British art to a level that was commensurate with the nation’s economic, maritime and colonial power. This was to be achieved both by the education of young artist and the staging of an annual exhibition of works by great Academicians – including Reynolds who was appointed to act as its first president.

The Academy School was based in Old Somerset House on the Strand. The academic programme began with the study of portraiture and Rowlandson and his fellow pupils would have spent their days drawing objects from the  extensive collection of plaster copies of antique statuary that was housed in the building. When not engaged in formal study under the supervision of a master, pupil’s were encouraged to busy themselves by copying works which hung in the Academy’s exhibition rooms in Pall Mall. It is almost certainly here that Rowlandson would have first set eyes on Reynolds painting of Count Ugolino. Rowlandson arrived at the Academy on 6th November 1772 and Reynolds unveiled the painting at the opening of the annual exhibition five month later. If Rowlandson took his sketch from direct observation of the original then it must have been completed before 1775, when it was sold to the Duke of Dorset for the princely sum of 400 guineas (apparently it was a shrewd investment – Dorset would later claim he had been offered £1,000 for it). [1.]

The painting depicts an obscure episode in the bloody history of medieval Italy. Count Ugolino was a Pisan nobleman who was ousted from power following a coup orchestrated by his arch-rival Archbishop Ruggieri. Ugolino and his sons were confined to a locked room at the top of a high tower in the city and there they were left to starve to death on Ruggieri’s orders. The incident would probably have vanished into the footnotes of history were not for the fact that it was recorded for posterity by the poet Dante in The Divine Comedy. Dante places Ugolino and Ruggieri in the Circle of Hell reserved for traitors, with the Archbishop being judged to be the worst of the pair and therefore forced to endure the pain of having his rival gnaw hungrily at his head for all eternity.

Reynolds painting shows Ugolino staring out at the viewer in helpless anguish as the first of his children succumbs to hunger. It’s a striking image and a radical departure from the society portraits that he was more commonly known for. As a consequence, the cognoscenti’s reaction was decidedly mixed. While The Public Advertiser acknowledged that it was “a good picture” it also felt it necessary to add that “if the same Excellence had been employed on a pleasing Subject, it would have inchanted [sic], as it may now terrify, the Public.” The Morning Chronicle on the other hand regarded it as a work which was utterly without merit and described Reynolds efforts as “the rude disorderly abortions of an unstudied mind, of a portrait painter, who quitting the confined track where he was calculated to move in safety, had ridiculously bewildered himself in unknown regions.” [2.]

Nevertheless, Reynolds and his fellow Academicians regarded history painting as the highest form of art and it’s entirely possible that Rowlandson and his fellow pupils were instructed to make careful copies of Count Ugolino… when it was put on display. The choice of subject matter certainly strengthens the case for this being an early work, as by the 1780s Rowlandson was already beginning to drift away from the classical and Italianate ideals of the Reynolds and his fellow Academicians. In 1783 he pointedly declined to submit any paintings for the Academy’s annual exhibition and instead put forward four drawings for inclusion in a display by the rival Society of Artists, a body which promoted a more vernacular style of British art in keeping with the manner of William Hogarth and Joseph Wright of Derby. It therefore seems hard to imagine Rowlandson devoting time and effort to copying Reynolds’ picture after this date. It therefore stands as an exceptionally early example of Rowlandson’s work and one which is most definitely worthy of note.

The painting is signed in the lower left-hand corner and measures 27.7 x 37.5cm. It was sold at auction in the UK on 4th March 2020 for a hammer price of £2,200.


References

  1. John Chu, “High Art and High Stakes: The 3rd Duke of Dorset’s Gamble on Reynolds”, British Art Studies, Issue 2, http://dx.doi.org/10.17658/issn.2058 5462/issue-02/jchu.
  2. Public Advertiser, 28th April 1773 & Morning Chronicle, 30th April 1773.

Britannia and the British Museum

It seems as though posts about prints by James Gillray are a bit like buses – You wait ages for one and three turn up in quick succession. I hadn’t planned to write another piece on Gillray this quickly but a reader was kind enough to contact me last week to share some information that I thought others would find interesting.

John Staral – an enthusiastic fellow print collector and occasional correspondent – got in touch to tell me that he’d recently acquired a copy of Gillray’s Britannia. The print came with a letter written to its former owner by the Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum. This gentleman had evidently contacted the museum to enquire whether the presence of the initials “G.M.” in the border of the image implied a connection to the painter George Morland (1763 – 1804) and why a print which purported to have been published on 25th June 1791 was printed on paper with a watermark for the year 1811?

The Keeper’s  answer to the first question can probably be guessed but the response to the second was rather more interesting:

For me this print and the accompanying letter help to answer a long-standing query about the nature of the Hannah Humphrey’s printselling business, namely: How did she manage to sustain herself after Gillray’s ill-health overcame him and he was no longer able to produce caricatures? A quick look at the (frustratingly creaky) online catalogue of the British Museum’s collection indicates that Hannah produced comparatively little new material between the publication of Gillray’s final few plates in 1810 and the time of her death in 1818. 1813 seems to have been her busiest year during this time and even then it appears as though she only felt the need to publish around a dozen or so new plates (mostly political prints capitalising on the surge in demand for satires on Napoleon’s disastrous retreat from Moscow). The answer seems to be that she kept herself going by plundering her stock of Gillray’s copperplates and constantly reissuing copies of his old caricatures. This practice was continued by George Humphrey when he inherited the shop and assumed a prominent role in the business. By 1823 Humphrey was styling himself as “Printseller & Publisher of Gillray’s Satirical Prints & Being the Proprietor of his Original Works” and it’s therefore not too surprising that his business failed when Gillray eventually fell out of fashion a decade later.

They also raise an interesting question about the concept of originality in print-collecting. This print was published whilst Gillray was still alive and was coloured according in Hannah Humphrey’s “shop” standard. However, this particular copy was also printed 20 years after the first edition and the colouring is slightly different from that which appears on other (presumably earlier) copies of the same image. So is it an original? For my money the answer to this question is “yes”, as it meets the basic criteria of being published in Gillray’s lifetime, but beyond this we enter a far more subjective and difficult arena of debate. What we can say for certain is that publication lines are untrustworthy little devils and that even Gillrays with the “correct” style of colouring may have been printed and sold several years after the design first appeared in Hannah Humphrey’s shop window.

James Gillray, Love in a Coffin, c.1784

Continuing the previous post’s theme of esoteric prints that reflect the relative intimacies of social life in the late eighteenth-century, I’d like to consider another unusual engraving by James Gillray. Love in a Coffin was published on 30th December 1784 by Thomas Trotter (of whom we will hear more in a moment). It’s a fine example of the artist’s early work which dresses scurrilous social satire up in the mantle of artistic and literary criticism. The image parodies the style of French Rococo art that was popular amongst illustrators of romantic fiction of the time. There are similarities between the design and Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s The Progress of Love (1771- 1773), a series four paintings in which scenes of romance are played out against a pastoral backdrop of picturesque ruins. However, as such scenes were also frequently parodied in contemporary pornography, it’s equally possible that Gillray drew his inspiration from more earthy material, deliberately introducing a strong sexual subtext to the piece that many of his customers would have acknowledged surreptitiously. The print also contains references to Tristram Shandy (1760 – 1767) and Swift’s A Journal to Stella (1766) [1].

The meaning of the caricature is largely lost on modern audiences but the beau monde of late eighteenth-century London would have recognised it as a satire on scandalous rumours of an illicit affair between the young Lady Elizabeth Sackville and an officer of a volunteer militia company. Confirmation of this can be found in the journal of Captain Edward Thompson, a Royal Navy officer who managed to carve out a successful literary career for himself by writing salacious poems celebrating the talents of London’s noted courtesans. On 1st January 1785, Thompson wrote:

The print of Love in a Coffin – was published today – the family hath taken much pains to suppress every thing on this subject – Lord Sackville took home [to Ireland] his Culprit truant daughter. I know no satire, no chastisement so severe against vice in people of fashion, as prints – for which I designed the above… [2].

This could lead us to the assumption that Thompson was responsible for designing Gillray’s print, but that seems unlikely given that Gillray’s version of Love in a Coffin purports to have been published two days prior to Thompson’s journal entry. The print that Thompson was probably referring to is one which appeared in the 1st January 1785 edition of The Rambler’s Magazine. An advertisement for which appeared in several newspapers at the time:

RAMBLER’S MAGAZINE, for 1784. And on Saturday, the first of January, 1785, will be published. Embellished with three very curious Copper-Plates, and another extraordinary Embellishment, viz. 1. LOVE in a COFFIN; or Irish Ardour too violent to be abated by STONE-SHELL… [3].

A more likely explanation is that Thompson’s engraving was the first version of the satire to make it to market (as his journal entry suggests that prior to the 1st January 1785 the Sackville family had been successful in preventing news of the scandal leaking out), that Gillray then spent several days fashioning a more accomplished version of the same image and this was then published with a false date in order to convey the impression of originality (a practice which was not uncommon at the time). I therefore suspect that the print was actually published sometime during early January 1785 and not on 30th December 1784 as the publication line claims.

This particular piece of deception may have been the work of the print’s publisher – Thomas Trotter. This is the only print of Gillray’s known to have been published by Trotter and his involvement in its production is perhaps telling. Gillray and Trotter studied at the Royal Academy together and are likely to have been acquaintances if not friends. Trotter was primarily a portrait engraver but also published a small number of prints on his own account. The fact that Gillray appears to have been forced to turn to such a small-time publisher perhaps suggests that his usual publishers were unwilling to touch a print which may have brought the wrath of Lord Sackville down upon them. This theory may be borne out to some extent by the existence of another caricature on the same subject – Isaac Cruikshank’s Love in a Stone Coffin – in which the publisher’s name and address appear to have been deliberately obliterated from the copperplate.

At this point I’d like to digress to briefly sketch out a biography of Thomas Trotter about whom little appears to have been written. It’s not difficult to see why Trotter and Gillray may have become friends. Both men were the sons of Scottish immigrants with strongly religious bents. Trotter’s father was the Reverend Dr John Trotter (1728 – 1808), a noted figure amongst London’s Scottish community who presided over the Scottish Presbyterian church in Swallow Street for nearly forty years. A description of Reverend Trotter which appeared shortly after his death described him as:

a very respectable character [who] …embraced that scheme of doctrines which usually pass under the name of Calvinism… As a preacher his aim was to declare the whole counsel of God, and he insisted much on the peculiar doctrines of the gospel. These he explained with fidelity and affection, and took care to introduce something in every sermon with a view to consolation of the afflicted. He made himself well acquainted with his flock, visiting them frequently, especially in the seasons of distress [4].

Thomas was born in the tiny village of Ceres, Fife, in 1760 and had moved to London with his father in December 1769. The boy displayed a talent for drawing and possibly received some tuition in the subject from the artist and engraver William Blake before being apprenticed to a calico-printer. He entered the Royal Academy in 1779 and went onto establish himself as an engraver of contemporary and historical portraits. He also occasionally dabbled in publishing, producing Love in a Coffin as well as a somewhat-caricatured portrait of the radical Whig MP Charles James Fox (of whom Trotter himself was a supporter). We also know that he was resident at a variety of different addresses in and around Westminster, including Grosvenor Place (1788), Arabella Row (1790) and 15 Palace St, Pimlico (date unknown). The latter was described in an advertisement of 1829 as “brick built dwelling houses, desirably situate[d]…, each house contains eight rooms, with closets, cellarage, and garden.” [5].

Sometime around 1800 Trotter was involved in an unfortunate accident which brought his career as an engraver to an abrupt end. His obituary records that “he received a hurt in his eyes by the fall of a flower-pot from a chamber window” and from then until his death he was “employed in making drawings of churches and monuments, in various parts of the country, for Sir Richard Hoare and other gentlemen.” The notice also sadly observes that he left “a widow, and one daughter, totally unprovided for, to lament a good husband, a good father, and in every respect a worthy and honest man.” His engraving tools and other possessions were auctioned off in order to raise funds for his family in March 1803. [6].


  1. J. McCabe, The Triumph of Men: Reassessing Gender in Fragonard’s Progress of Love, (Boston, 2015), p. 27. For a lengthier description of the print see R. Godfrey, James Gillray, The Art of Caricature, (London, 2001), p. 62.
  2. BM Add. MS 46120: Capt Edward Thompson RN, Journal, 1783-85, 1st January 1785, [45]. Thompson’s remarks disprove Dorothy George’s theory that the young lady at the centre of the print was a member of the Charlemont family. James Caulfeild, 1st Earl of Charlemont, did not have any daughters and his wife would have been well into middle age by the time this print was published. George Germain, 1st Viscount Sackville, had two sons and two daughters. His youngest daughter Elizabeth was born in 1760 and would have been about 24 years old. She was later married off to the Irish MP and landowner Henry Herbert (1756 – 1821)
  3. Suffolk Advertiser, 27th December 1784, Leeds Intelligencer, 28th December 1784. A copy of the print can be found in the British Museum’s online catalogue (HERE).
  4. W. Wilson, History & Antiquities of the Dissenting Churches, Vol. 4, (London, 1808), pp. 49 – 50.
  5. Morning Advertiser 2nd March 1829. The addresses at Grosvenor Place and Arabella Row appear in the Westminster Poll Books for 1788 and 1790 respectively (available online at London Lives). The Poll Books show that Trotter voted for the Tory candidate Sir Admiral Hood in 1788 before casting his vote for the radical Charles James Fox in 1790, which suggests that he may have been caught up in the initial burst of egalitarian enthusiasm which followed the outbreak of the French Revolution. The address in Pimlico appears in the publication line of his portrait of Fox which can before in the British Museum online catalogue (HERE). Trotter is referred to as Blake’s apprentice in a number of modern sources but I’ve been unable to find a contemporary source to corroborate this claim and it is entirely contradicted by his obituary. I have therefore speculated that if an association did exist then this is more likely to have been one of acquaintance or that perhaps Blake – who worked as a drawing master – was employed to tutor Trotter at some point during his youth.
  6. Trotter’s obituary was published in The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol. 73, Part 1, (February 1803), pp. 199 – 200. The advertisement for the auction of his tools and remaining stock appeared in The British Press, 22nd March 1803.

Sketched by Humphrey, Spoiled by Gillray, 1781.

Living as we do in the post-deferential era of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, it’s perhaps hard for us to appreciate the comparatively confined sociability of our eighteenth-century forebears. This was a time in which personal relationships were heavily defined by considerations of class, kinship and commerce. Outsiders lacking an existing contact to provide them with an introduction to a particular club or group of people would find it extremely difficult to make new acquaintances on their own. The Yorkshire landowner Godfrey Boswell loved visiting London during the 1760s and had the time, money and inclination to visit its pleasure gardens, coffee shops and theatres, but bemoaned the fact that it was all

 …but a public life in appearance, for everybodys [sic] conversation is in a manner confined within the compass of a few particular acquaintance[s]. The Nobility hold themselves uncontaminated with the Commons. You seldom see a Lord and a private Gentleman together… An American that saw a Regiment of Footmen drawn up might think the officers and soldiers mighty sociable. Just so is the company [here], all together and all distinct. [1].

Satirical printshops were not only part of this world in the sense that they acted as venues for social interaction, they also helped reinforce it by allowing customers to design and publish prints exclusively for themselves and their friends. The husband and wife team Matthew and Mary Darly frequently advertised the fact that “Gentlemen and Ladies may have any Sketch or Fancy of their own, engraved, etched &c. with the utmost Despatch and Secrecy.” and frequently staged exhibitions in which the works of amateur satirists appeared alongside those of more professional artists. Similarly, Samuel Fores appended the notice “Gentlemens Designs Executed gratis” to his publication line during the early part of his career as a stationer and satirical printseller. [2].

The practice of vanity publishing has led to the survival of a number of prints that were clearly intended for a small market and which often relate to the sharing of a private joke amongst friends. A nice example of this can be found in this little known 1781 portrait study by James Gillray It was engraved after a drawing of the young William Lamb (later Lord Melbourne and Queen Victoria’s first Prime Minister) by George Humphrey. Gillray was evidently dissatisfied with his interpretation of the original image and paid to have it published by the printseller Robert Wilkinson (for whom he also engraved a handful of caricatures between 1779 and 1785). Below following note appears below the oval:

Sketch’d by Humphrey & Spoil’d by Gillray. Dedicated to all Lovers of your bold, Masterly Touches & Publish’d Novr. 1st. 1781 by J. Gillray to show the bad effect of Cobbling & Altering.  “Fool that I was, thus to Cobble my Shoe”

A second state also exists in which the image has been defaced with a series of scratches gouged into the copperplate. It’s not clear whether the two editions were published simultaneously – emphasising the supposedly disastrous consequences of Gillray’s excessive tinkering – or separately one after the other? It’s possible the scratched edition was published at a slightly later date and that the damage was added to the plate in order to make the joke obvious to those with even the most limited understanding of aesthetics and the art of engraving. Either way, it appears that enough copies of both states were published for editions to have survived in several public and institutional collections. [3].


References

  1. Papers of the Bosville-MacDonald family, Hull University Archives, DDBM/32/7-9.
  2. Public Advertiser, 28th September 1762. For Fores publication line see The natty, lad or Polish, dwarf taking an airing (1787), The girl in stile (1787), A fat buck of Hyde Park (1787).
  3. For the first state (undamaged) see National Portrait Gallery (NPG D12295) and The British Museum (BM Satires 5912). Copies of the second state (with scratches) can be found in The British Museum (BM 1851,0901.1343), the House of Lords Library (Gillray Collection, vol. 1, p.10) and the Blanton Museum of Art (Leo Steinberg Collection, 2002.1214).

 

G.M. Woodward, Symptoms of the Shop, 1801

 

George Murgatroyd Woodward was born in the parish of St Giles-in-the Fields in 1765. His father William was a successful surveyor who kept his offices in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. William regularly travelled throughout the country mapping the estates of great landowners and it was during one of these trips that he came to the attention of the second Earl of Stanhope. The Earl was so impressed with William’s work that he offered to make him his land agent, a post which effectively made the surveyor responsible for the day-to-day running of the Earl’s huge estate. The position came with a grace-and-favour home in Derbyshire and from 1775 until his death in 1817, William would reside in the village of Stanton-by-Dale. The family also retained a London residence, at No. 28 Carey Street in Holborn, for the purposes of allowing young George to complete his education in more civilised surroundings.

George’s teenage years were spent assisting his father in the management of the Stanhope family’s estates in Derbyshire, Buckinghamshire and Devon. It was a job he undertook competently but with little real enthusiasm, for George had discovered that he had a talent for making people laugh and harboured dreams that he might return to London and live on his wit. Perhaps against his better judgement, William was persuaded to allow his son to return to the great metropolis at the age of 18 and pursue a career in comedy. Bolstered by an allowance of £50 a year from his father, George immediately set about publishing his own caricatures from the house on Carey Street. These early prints led to commissions from two of the city’s leading satirical print-publishers, William Holland and Samuel Fores, both of whom were constantly on the lookout for artists capable of supplying them with ideas for fresh designs.

Woodward was an adequate artist but lacked the technical knowledge required to transfer his ideas onto copper plates for printing. However, his designs were evidently good enough to warrant the additional cost associated with pairing him up with a professional engraver and during the course of his career he would collaborate with the likes of Thomas Rowlandson, Isaac Cruikshank and Richard Newton. He also wrote well and contributed humorous poems, stories and essays to the magazines and journals of the day. In 1796 he brought the two strands of his career together in what became his most famous work – Eccentric Excursions, or Literary and Pictorial Sketches of the Countenance, Character and Country, in Different Parts of England and South Wales, which consisted of a series of humorous anecdotes decorated with a hundred engraved plates by Isaac Cruikshank.

Woodward pursued a successful career as a humorist for a period of around twenty years – the extent of his achievements being measured by the fact that he was one of the few caricaturists of the period whose name carried sufficient cache to make it worthy of mention in publishers advertisements [1]. But he derived little material benefit from the success, squandering what money he made on an ever increasing appetite for drink and louche sociability. By the mid-1800s he was effectively homeless, lodging in a room above the Southampton Arms in Chancery Lane when he had money and dossing down in the taproom of his favourite watering hole – The Brown Bear in Bow Street – when he did not. His health inevitably deteriorated and by the winter of 1809 he was suffering from dropsy. An obituary published in the Gentleman’s Magazine describes how he met his end:

He went to the Brown Bear public-house in Bow-street, in a coach, very unwell; and though he had no money, Mr Hazard the landlord, very humanely took him in, and paid the coachman, although he had no knowledge of him, except occasionally sleeping there. He also procured a doctor to attend him, and rendered him every possible assistance; but he survived only a short time, and died of dropsy. Mr Hazard had the corpse decently buried at his own expense [2].

However, it’s possible that even this tragic version of events was heavily sanitised in order to spare the blushes of his family. According to the socialite Henry Angelo, who was an acquaintance of Woodward’s, the caricaturist had been carousing in The Brown Bear – as was his habit – when he had died suddenly “with a glass of brandy in his hand.”[3]

William Woodward may well have gone to his grave ruing the day he agreed to allow George to go gallivanting back to London. His son’s debts would haunt the family for years to come,consuming almost the entirety of his father’s estate when the old man eventually died in 1817 [4].

G.M. Woodward’s story came to mind recently when I noticed that one of his original drawings was coming up for sale at auction. The image is a proof version of the sixth number of a series of twelve caricatures which were published under the collective title of Symptoms of the Shop by S.W. Fores in 1801. The prints themselves are quite rare, with The Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University being the only institution fortunate enough to have acquired a full set of coloured impressions, so its a real treat to see that at least one of the original sketches has also survived. Woodward presumably submitted his design to Fores and it was either the printseller himself or Francis Sansom – the engraver assigned to work with Woodward on the series – who was responsible for making a number of changes to the text in brown ink. These amendments highlight that satirical print-making was often (perhaps usually) a collective endeavour and that publishers (for a suspect the corrections were the work of Fores hand) exercised a degree of creative control that is frequently under-appreciated by those of us with an interest in these prints.


References

  1. For examples see The Star, 12th December 1801,  23rd September 1808, & 1st March 1809. With the exception of Gillray and Rowlandson, who appear to have succeeded in establishing themselves as artistic personalities in their own right, there are comparatively few examples of contemporary advertisements that identify the artist of a particular caricature. Even caricaturists whose names are now regarded as being synonymous with the ‘Golden Age of British Caricature’ – such as Isaac Cruikshank and Charles Williams – are rarely named in publishers advertisements. This is presumably due to the fact that caricatures were not regarded as serious art worthy of acknowledgement. It may also reflect a desire by printsellers to ensure that customer loyalty was built around their shop, rather than a particular artist who might easily take his talents elsewhere.

2. Gentlemen’s Magazine, 1st series 79, (December, 1809), p.1175.

3. H. Angelo, Reminiscences…, vol. 1, (London, 1827), p.432. Angelo was a close friend of Thomas Rowlandson who frequently collaborated with Woodward on caricatures.

4. M. Payne & J. Payne, Regarding Thomas Rowlandson 1757 – 1827, (London, 2010), pp. 213-214, 280.