History of the Collection
In June 2002 the Isle of Wight Council, with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Art Collections Fund, purchased 112 watercolour sketches by Thomas Rowlandson, Samuel Howitt and others, of views made during tours to the Isle of Wight in the 1790s. This remarkable collection came from Longleat House in Wiltshire, seat of the Marquesses of Bath, where it was rediscovered in the library in 2 bound volumes during efforts to identify items to be sold to help maintain Longleat’s many treasures
The 112 watercolour sketches comprise some 53 by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827), 22 by his brother-in-law Samuel Howitt (1756-1822), and 37 by other contemporary artists. Most are views of the Isle of Wight and Solent areas, but 21 also depict mainland locations visited en route to and from the Island. The Rowlandson and Howitt sketches appear to have come into the hands of Rowlandson’s friend, travelling companion and fellow artist, Henry Wigstead (1760-1800), probably because Wigstead is thought to have financed the tour made with these two artists in 1791. The sketches re-appear following the death of Wigstead’s brother in 1832, in a sale by Southgate, Son & Grimston in London held in May 1834. Lot 335 in this sale comprised ‘Wigstead’s (Henry) excursion to Southampton, Lymington, and the Isle of Wight, in the year 1791, with fifty-three highly finished Drawings.’ Although the manuscript is now lost, its citation provides strong evidence for the date of the tour represented by the main group of sketches. Within this collection of 112 sketches there are 51 larger sketches measuring about 9 x 13 inches all with hand sketched borders which are attributed to the 1791 tour (another two have been identified in a private collection); and the rest are smaller in size and belong to tours made in the later 1790’s. They too have hand sketched borders
The sketches were acquired shortly after the London sale by Beriah Botfield (1807-1863) of Norton Hall, Northamptonshire) and bound (before 1837) in two volumes with an accompanying manuscript text, describing the broad history of some of the principal places illustrated in the sketches. Beriah Botfield bequeathed his collections, via his widow, to the Marquess of Bath, and thus the Isle of Wight sketches came to Longleat, where they remained for about 140 years, until their sale in 2002. It is fair to say that their very existence was known only to a very few living scholars.
The Isle of Wight Council has commissioned Maritime Prints & Originals to reproduce the first 17 of these Rowlandsons and these are now available as limited edition prints. It is hoped that over the years the remainder of this wonderful collection of Rowlandsons and Howitts will be similarly published.