About Thomas Rowlandson
The artist: Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827)
Thomas Rowlandson was not only the most popular artist in his own time, but has ever since been held up as the most perceptive and talented illustrator of the English way of life of the late Georgian period. His skills as an observer and social commentator were informed by a colourful, if indulgent lifestyle which involved travel, gambling, drinking, and pretty women.
Rowlandson was the only son of a City of London wool and silk merchant, but following his father’s bancruptcy was brought up by his aunt and uncle from the age of two. His aunt encouraged him in his inclination to drawing, and with her support he went on to study at the Royal Academy Schools between 1772-1778, where early work submitted to the Academy won him high praise. In the 1780s he travelled widely, particularly to France, and he made his reputation as a popular satirist and political cartoonist, befriending well-known figures such as James Gillray. Upon his aunt’s death in 1789 he received a significant legacy, but prudence in financial matters was not his strong point, and he was soon reliant once more upon sales of prints and drawings. The last twenty years of his life saw a considerable output of work for book illustrations, notably the colour-plate works published by Rudolph Ackermann.
Rowlandson’s first documented tour of the Isle of Wight was in 1784, travelling with Henry Wigstead, crossing from Lymington to Yarmouth and returning via Cowes to Portsmouth. The 68 drawings of the ‘Tour in a Post Chaise’ are now in the Huntington Library in California (of which ten feature the Isle of Wight). Henry Wigstead accompanied (and probably sponsored) Rowlandson again in the 1791 tour to the Island, and features in a number of the sketches together with Rowlandson’s brother-in-law, the artist Samuel Howitt (1756-1822). Howitt was a prolific artist particularly well known for his wildlife and sporting prints; his artistic work, like that of Wigstead, was heavily influenced by Rowlandson.
This Collection provides
the best “snapshot” in
existence of the Isle of Wight and its surroundings in the
late 18th century. Like so many of his sketches they can be
enjoyed as much for their topographic and local history content,
as for their well observed detail of human affairs.