POUGHKEEPSIE, NY—The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College has organized the first major American exhibition in 20 years of the work of artist and caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827): Thomas Rowlandson: Pleasures and Pursuits in Georgian England. In a new approach, the exhibition and accompanying catalogue will examine Rowlandson’s response to his social and political worlds—the worlds of the West End, Covent Garden, and London politics in the late Georgian era. This exhibition will celebrate Rowlandson’s lighthearted, witty, incisive, and sometimes bawdy humor and will be on view at the Art Center from Friday, April 8, through Sunday, June 12, 2011.
The exhibition opening, on April 8, will feature “A Conversation on Thomas Rowlandson and His Art,” with Princeton University professor Linda Colley, a renowned expert on British history since 1700, and Brian Lukacher, Vassar’s historian of 18th- and 19th-century art. Their discussion promises an engaging exploration of social and political crosscurrents at work during Rowlandson’s lifetime and will be followed by a reception. In addition, there will be a film series that will feature themes and people from Rowlandson’s world.
Curated by Patricia Phagan, the Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Art Center, Thomas Rowlandson: Pleasures and Pursuits in Georgian England will feature 72 watercolors, drawings, and prints that are drawn from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale Center for British Art, Lewis Walpole Library, Beinecke Library, Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, and Vassar College Libraries, Archives and Special Collections.
To those unfamiliar with his work, Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827) may be considered a later William Hogarth, the English satirist, printmaker, and painter who is today perhaps better known and who, unlike Rowlandson, professed a strong, serious moralizing element in his work. Hogarth died in 1764 when Rowlandson was just learning to draw caricatures as a boy, a pastime rapidly gaining popularity in London. The older artist’s prints of contemporary London intertwined amusements, incidents, diverse characters, and, occasionally, politics, strongly influencing Rowlandson’s subjects and figural types. However, Rowlandson’s lighthearted, deft humor and especially his unmatched flowing line distinguish his work. His masterly drawing ability has been recognized by generations of appreciative admirers.
A superior Navy, booming trade, and the reaches of the British Empire fed a remarkable economic expansion in Georgian London during Rowlandson’s lifetime, benefiting especially the aristocracy and gentry who swarmed into the metropolis during the parliamentary season from October to June. There were lively entertainments, many concentrated in the fashionable West End and especially in Covent Garden, Rowlandson’s home area in his later years. Women and men of all social ranks attended masquerade balls, theaters, and other public entertainments, while patronage of composers such as Johann Christian Bach and Joseph Haydn proliferated. Indeed, London saw a phenomenal population boom especially from the 1780s with a rise in wealth, rural newcomers, prostitution, and leisure activities.
Thomas Rowlandson: Pleasures and Pursuits in Georgian England identifies and examines Rowlandson’s themes on this efflorescence of Georgian social life. Specifically, the themes spotlight his interests in high society and politics, encounters on the street, camaraderie in clubs and taverns, outdoor entertainments and other diversions, musings about art, drama, and dance, and romantic and sexual tangles and attachments. For instance, curator Phagan noted that high society and politics were tightly interwoven in Georgian London, and Rowlandson frequently depicted these political and fashionable intersections as a young man. In the 1780s, leaders of fashion and politics featured prominently in satirical works, and Rowlandson pictured elite icons Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and George, Prince of Wales in political prints, in addition to the watercolors he made of them. In another example, Rowlandson’s club and tavern scenes revel in entertaining episodes of men drinking potent punch and gambling, both passionate pastimes of the period. Ice skating, prize fighting, and making sketching tours in the picturesque countryside also inspired several works on view.
The nucleus of this examination is found in the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center’s drawings by Rowlandson given in 1953 by Mr. and Mrs. Francis Fitz Randolph (Mary E. Hill, class of 1945-4). There had not been a major study of these works, and only a few had been shown or published. In addition, as most of the watercolors depict various pleasures and pursuits of social life in Georgian England, they provided the impetus for the exploration of this theme on a larger scale. Investment banker and trustee Francis Fitz Randolph (1889-1973) collected English satirical art and rare books on English culture, and had purchased the watercolors from the library of William Hartman Woodin (1868-1934), an industrialist and secretary of the treasury under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Thomas Rowlandson is accompanied by a full-color 184 page catalogue with a major overview essay on “Rowlandson’s London” by social historian Vic Gatrell, of Cambridge University; an essay on Rowlandson’s well-known political satires, by art historian Amelia Rauser, of Franklin and Marshall College; and an introductory essay with catalogue entries and section introductions by Patricia Phagan, the Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, and curator of the exhibition. In his essay, Gatrell reveals Rowlandson’s close identity with the teeming, mingling culture of London’s Covent Garden, which was essential to his artistic vision and life. Rauser explores Rowlandson’s detached humor and social mixing in political satires from 1784 and his important contribution to political caricature. The catalogue is published by the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center in association with D Giles Ltd, London and is available at the Art Center gift shop.
The last American monographic exhibition on the artist took place in 1990. Since then, scholars have placed new emphasis on the social and political contexts of satirical watercolors, drawings, and prints of the period. They have studied leisure and social life and the crossing of class boundaries, for example. Indeed, a wide range of Rowlandson’s oeuvre is viewed in this exhibition with these issues in mind. The time is right for a reappraisal of his watercolors, drawings, and prints, and this exhibition and its catalogue aim to reintroduce his art to American audiences.
About the Artist
Thomas Rowlandson is one of the most important social satirists in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Britain, the golden age of English caricature. Born in 1757 in Old Jewry in the City of London, Rowlandson lived there until the family’s move to Richmond in Yorkshire by early 1760, prompted by his father’s bankruptcy. Around 1764 or 1765, he was sent back to London to live with his well-to-do aunt Jane and uncle James, a prominent silk weaver. On becoming a widow, Jane and young Rowlandson moved to Church Street, Soho, in the West End. Rowlandson enrolled in the prestigious Dr. Cuthbert Barwis’s Academy in Soho Square. From there he went to the Royal Academy Schools at Old Somerset House in the Strand, matriculating at age fifteen in 1772, winning a silver award in 1777, and contributing works to the RA annual exhibitions from 1775 until 1787. Despite coming from a trade and manufacturing background, Rowlandson adapted to the more sophisticated world of the West End and seems to have remained dependent on his aunt Jane for his robust lifestyle. His early drawings and prints clearly reflect and project West End interests, including high society, gambling, Westminster politics, and theater.
After his aunt’s death in April 1789, a period of instability in Rowlandson’s life is indicated by several changes in address and a switch to a new audience, showing a preoccupation with picturing the follies and foibles of tradesmen and coarser types. As before, Rowlandson published some of his own prints, but for much of his later life he depended on art collector Mathew Michell and numerous publishers for a secure income. Thomas Tegg, of Cheapside in the City of London became a chief publisher of his prints in 1807. Publisher Rudolph Ackermann, who owned a large retail establishment with gallery and library on the Strand, became a major outlet for Rowlandson, beginning in 1797. Geared largely toward middle audiences, Ackermann’s publications included numerous volumes and print series in which Rowlandson was involved.
Around the late 1790s and early 1800s and until his death in 1827 the artist was living with his own etching press in his attic at 1 James Street in the Adelphi, a prestigious development between the Strand and the Thames designed chiefly by neo-classical architect Robert Adam (1728–1792). Clearly, while Rowlandson had a greater interest in more complex and sophisticated print and drawing techniques early on—ones that would certainly attract the attentions of the connoisseur—he eventually espoused a more straightforward stylistic approach, where simpler narratives appealing to the many took hold. A prolific artist, he made around 10,000 drawings, according to one commentator, and over a thousand prints.
About the Curator
Patricia Phagan is the Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College. She is in charge of more than 10,000 works in the permanent collection, including the Magoon Collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English watercolors, drawings, and prints. As a curator of prints and drawings for over twenty years, she has organized a number of exhibitions, including British Watercolors from the West Foundation Collection; The Transmission of Fame: Italian Renaissance Prints; and REMBRANDT: Treasures from the Rembrandt House, Amsterdam. She has edited numerous catalogues on European and American prints and drawings and written widely, including the article, “Drawings at Vassar to ‘Illustrate the Loftiest Principles and Refine the Most Delighted Hearts,’” published in Master Drawings (Summer 2004). She earned her Ph.D. in Art History from the City University of New York Graduate Center in 2000 with a dissertation on American political cartoons of the 1920s and 1930s.
About the Catalogue Guest Essayists
Vic Gatrell is a Life Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University, and has been a Reader in History in the Cambridge History Faculty and Professor of British History at Essex University. His City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London (2006), a study of satirical caricature and manners from 1780 to 1830, won both the Wolfson History Prize and the International PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize and was listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction. Gatrell completed a B.A. and Ph.D. in History at Cambridge with a dissertation on class, politics, and the cotton industry in early nineteenth-century Manchester. He is currently writing a history of “low life” in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century London.
Amelia Rauser is professor of art history at Franklin and Marshall College and author of “The Butcher-Kissing Duchess of Devonshire: Between Caricature and Allegory in 1784,” in Eighteenth-Century Studies (2002) as well as Caricature Unmasked: Irony, Authenticity, and Individualism in Eighteenth-Century Prints (2008). She received her Ph.D. in 1997 from Northwestern University with her dissertation, “Liberty and Identity in British Political Prints, 1763-1793.”
The exhibition and its catalogue benefit from the generous support of the Evelyn Metzger Exhibition Fund and of Furthermore: a program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund.
This exhibition premiered at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University (on view through March 13, 2011).
Opening of Thomas Rowlandson: Pleasures and Pursuits in Georgian England
April 8 at 5:30pm
“A Conversation on Thomas Rowlandson and His Art”
Taylor Hall, Room 102, followed by a reception in the Art Center
Linda Colley, a renowned expert on British history since 1700, will join Brian Lukacher, Vassar’s historian of 18th- and 19th-century art, in a conversation on Thomas Rowlandson and works of art in the exhibition. Colley favors cross-disciplinary histories in a broad, global context, while Lukacher focuses on social history and esthetic philosophy in the Georgian period. Their discussion promises an engaging exploration of social and political crosscurrents at work during Rowlandson’s lifetime.
Colley is the Shelby M.C. Davis 1958 Professor of History at Princeton University. Born in Britain, she graduated from Bristol University in 1972 and completed her Ph.D. in history at Cambridge University in 1977. She was the first female Fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge, and she has advanced scholarship through several well-received books, including Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837 (1992), which won the Wolfson Prize for History. She writes for periodicals and newspapers, including the Guardian, the London Times, the New York Times, the Times Literary Supplement, and the London Review of Books. She is a Fellow of the British Academy and in 2009 was awarded Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She joined the Princeton History Department in 2003.
Lukacher, professor of art, has taught at Vassar College since 1986. In 2006 Thames and Hudson published his acclaimed monograph, Joseph Gandy: Architectural Visionary in Georgian England. He is a contributing author to Nineteenth Century Art: A Critical History, now in its third edition, and has written several authoritative journal essays and entries on British art and architecture. Lukacher received an M.A. from Williams College and a Ph.D. from the University of Delaware.
Exhibition Film Series
Thursday, April 28, 5:30pm
2008, 109 minutes, PG-13
Taylor Hall, Room 203
Academy Award nominees Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes star in The Duchess—the compelling true story of a lavish Georgian world. Georgiana the Duchess of Devonshire was a leading, controversial figure within this world and a favorite subject of Thomas Rowlandson’s political satires. Several of these rare prints featuring Georgiana are on view in the Rowlandson exhibition. A brief introduction will precede the showing of the film.
Thursday, May 5, 5:30pm
The Black Adder (The Third Season) Marathon
1987, 221 minutes, TV-PG
Taylor Hall, Room 203
The third season of the successful British sitcom is set in Georgian England and lampoons the monarchy, politics, class divisions, and other themes that also captured Thomas Rowlandson’s attention. Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) finds himself booted from upper-crust society and serving the incompetent Prince Regent (Hugh Laurie). Each episode is cleverly named to mimic a Jane Austen novel title: "Dish and Dishonesty," "Ink and Incapability," "Nob and Nobility," "Sense and Senility," "Amy and Amiability" and "Duel and Duality."
Wednesday, May 11, at 5:30pm
The Madness of King George
1994, 107 minutes, PG-13
Taylor Hall, Room 203
This Academy Award nominated film, adapted from Alan Bennett’s play, tells the true story of George III's (Nigel Hawthorne) deteriorating mental health, and his equally declining relationship with his son, the Prince of Wales (Rupert Everett), particularly focusing on the period around the Regency Crisis of 1788. The film also stars Helen Mirren, Ian Holm, and Rupert Graves.
About the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center was founded in 1864 as the Vassar College Art Gallery. The current 36,400-square-foot facility, designed by Cesar Pelli and named in honor of the new building's primary donor, opened in 1993. The Art Center's collections chart the history of art from antiquity to the present and comprise over 18,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and glass and ceramic wares. Notable holdings include the Warburg Collection of Old Master prints, an important group of Hudson River School paintings given by Matthew Vassar at the college's inception, and a wide range of works by major European and American 20th-century painters. Vassar was the first U.S. college founded with a permanent art collection and gallery, and at any given time, the Permanent Collection Galleries of the Art Center feature approximately 350 works from Vassar's extensive collections.
This January, the Art Center reopened with a new look at its acclaimed permanent collection in newly reinstalled and reorganized galleries. In addition to the permanent collection, the reorganization includes the Focus Gallery that features temporary exhibitions, as well as three galleries devoted to special exhibitions.
In 2011, the special exhibitions at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center will include:
From January 28 – March 27, 150 Years Later: New Photography by Tina Barney, Tim Davis, and Katherine Newbegin, curated by Mary-Kay Lombino.
Thomas Rowlandson: Pleasures and Pursuits in Georgian England, curated by Patricia Phagan, is the first major exhibition in the United States on this artist’s work in 20 years and will be on view at the Art Center from April 8 – June 12.
From June 24 – September 4, gifts to the Art Center’s permanent collection from three Vassar alumnae will be highlighted in A Taste for the Modern: Gifts from Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller, Edna Bryner Schwab, and Virginia Herrick Deknatel, also be curated by Patricia Phagan.
The Art Center will host the exhibition A Pioneering Collection: Master Drawings from the Crocker Art Museum, from September 16 – December 11.
Admission to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free. The Art Center is open to the public Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, 10:00am–5:00pm; Thursday, 10:00am–9:00pm; and Sunday, 1:00–5:00pm. Located at the entrance to the historic Vassar College campus, the Art Center can be reached within minutes from other Mid-Hudson cultural attractions, such as Dia:Beacon, the Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt national historic sites and homes, and the Vanderbilt mansion. The Art Center is wheelchair accessible. For additional information, the public may call (845) 437-5632 or visit fllac.vassar.edu.
Directions to the Vassar campus are available at www.vassar.edu/directions.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.