The Spirited Mr Rowlandson

November 20, 2015

A bloggers’ preview last week of not one but two new exhibitions at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace.  A bijou selection of high-quality genre paintings from the Golden Age of Dutch art more than competed for attention with one of the most brilliant draughtsmen and printmakers England has ever produced: Thomas Rowlandson (1757 – 1827).

The display of around 100 prints and drawings explores the life and art of one of this country’s most popular caricaturists. Social satires were his staple, but often the political intrigues of Parliament and the Court attracted the scrutiny of his quick-fire wit and flashing, free-spirited pen.

Rowlandson was a roving gun for hire, happy to direct his ridicule in whatever direction his patron or publisher of the time required – always with that arresting combination of invention and artistic flair. The exhibition includes satires against William Pitt and the Tories as well as against Pitt’s great rival Charles James Fox and his Whig acolytes.

It is perhaps surprising thIMG_2064at Rowlandson’s output was so popular with both George III and George IV, father and particularly son so often the butt of the joke. Queen Victoria apparently acquired more of his prints than either of her Hanoverian predecessors.

And pictorial satires of the Georgian and Victorian periods remain highly collectable to this day.  The market has been rejuvenated by a recent upsurge in scholarly research into this intriguingly fluid, hybrid medium that seems to straddle simultaneously the worlds of art, journalism, literature and politics.

Commanding the centre of the largest gallery is this c. 1806 four leaf screen (left), pasted with carefully arranged figures and scenes cut from satirical prints (the work of various artists, French and British).

This is a rare survival, the sort of thing I would love on my stand at a fair – think of the visitors it would attract.  These screens were popular adornments to the fashionable parlours of the Georgian and Regency periods, the ultimate statement of a trend for pasting prints onto everything from tea caddies to tables to the walls of billiard rooms (see my earlier post on this theme: Furniture Prints).

Printsellers’ catalogues and trade cards of the time offered selections of their wares intended for this very purpose.  Publishers too got in on the act – Isaac Cruikshank’s set of ‘Caricature Ornaments for screens’ was advertised in 1800.
Such screens could also be purchased ready-made.
Either way, they make for wonderful after-dinner conversation.

High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson showing at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace with Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer13th November 2015 – 14th February 2016.

“See you at Chelsea”

September 23, 2015

I will be exhibiting che15-short-logofor the first time at The Chelsea Antiquarian Book Fair, held on November 6th – 7th at the stunning Chelsea Old Town Hall in the King’s Road, London SW3 5EE.

The Chelsea fair has become a fixture in the calendar for book and print collectors and dealers from Britain, Europe and America. Warmer than Boston, more intimate than York, less formal than Paris – Chelsea has it all. Customers return year after year to this lively and friendly event.

‘See you at Chelsea’ has become a phrase familiar to everyone in the British rare book and works on paper trade.

I look forward to meeting old friends, established clients and especially new collectors.  With Christmas around the corner, are you looking for an unusual and memorable present? Or is there a subject, artist, genre or period of history that especially attracts you?  Perhaps you are thinking of collecting books or prints but are unsure of where to start, what to look for, who to approach or what on earth I mean by half calf gilt, aquatint, or slightly foxed…

If so, come and talk to me on the Stage at the back of the Main Hall (Stand 87, you can’t miss it!).

Whether you are in the business, a collector or simply curious about rare, antiquarian and collectable books, prints, maps and ephemera, then the Chelsea Antiquarian Book Fair is not to be missed.

The Fair is Open on Friday 6th November 2pm to 7pm and Saturday 7th November 11am to 5pm.

To Find out More:

For Free Tickets please click this link:

For a Preview of some of the Stock I will be bringing to Chelsea:

largeThough relatively scant scholarly attention has been paid to the subject, I would go so far as to suggest that the printed image is at least as important as the printed word to the progress of Western civilisation. The major scientific and technological advances of the post-Medieval world would surely have been impossible without what William M. Ivins called the “exactly repeatable pictorial statement”.

Read more of my article for the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (ABA) website.


Bonaparte and the British

February 17, 2015

To mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo – the final defeat of the brilliant French general and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) – the British Museum have put together a wonderful exhibition of British and French satirical prints.

The free display runs from 5th February to 16th August and is well worth a special visit.

The period of Britain’s struggle with Revolutionary and then Napoleonic France between 1793 and 1815 coincided with the richest seam of talent for caricature that this country has ever produced.

The compositions of Charles Williams, George Moutard Woodward, Richard Newton, Thomas Rowlandson and the incomparable James Gillray combined originality, perceptive wit and considerable artistic flair. The attacks could be brutal – both in terms of the narrative and visually, with grotesquely distorted faces and forms. But in some cases the subversion of the traditional rules of draughtsmanship as laid down by the art establishment was extremely inventive and, it occurs to me, ahead of its time.

The corsican spider. In his web. Etching by Thomas Rowlandson

The Corsican Spider. In his Web. Etching by Thomas Rowlandson

The satire is complemented by more sober works and official portraiture. A collection of anonymous and very competent watercolour sketches of the battlefield are dated two days after the fighting. They bear grim testament to the savagery and scale of the slaughter on that Sunday in June 1815. The ghostly pale bodies of soldiers, stripped bare by trophy hunters, are still seen lying on the ground in of one of the drawings.

Among other printed material on show is this poster advertising a reconstruction of Admiral Nelson’s great victory over a French fleet on the Mediterranean coast off Egypt in August 1798.

Charles Dibdin, the theatre manager at Sadler’s Wells in London’sAN01514979_001_l Islington, installed a water tank and attracted large patriotic crowds, their morale perhaps needing a boost as Napoleon’s victorious progress across the Continent continued.

It features a wood engraving of the French flagship L’Orient exploding at its centre.

Accompanying cabinets of curios include a group of metallic souvenirs collected by none other than Lord Byron from the field of Waterloo during his visit in 1816 – soldiers’ decorations etc.

On a totally unrelated subject, I was pleased to observe that prints were accorded their rightful prominent place in the decorative schemes of several room-recreations at the Geffrye Museum, during a recent visit. Next time you find yourself in east London’s trendy Hoxton do pop in!

Drawing room, 1870 at The Geffrye Museum

Drawing room, 1870 at The Geffrye Museum