on 16 August 2012
Strongly recommended as the best book on Rowlandson since Joseph Grego's 1880 magnum opus, and one that certainly replaces Bernard Falk's 1949 Biography as the definitive modern biography of Thomas Rowlandson - arguably the City of London's greatest artist. Rowlandson as well as being a superlative Rococo draughtsman, is considered, along with Gillray and George Cruikshank, one of the three giants of British 18C print caricature and was also a pioneer of modern book illustration.
Very readable, it packs in a wealth of information on Rowlandson, his background and the context in which he was working. and is excellently illustrated, with 32 colour plates and over 145 black and white illustrations, mostly from the British Museum's newly digital collection.
As well as drawing thoroughly on all the traditional primary sources, such Angelo's reminiscences, W.H.Pyne's memoirs, etc., and extensively on Grego himself, the authors, professional archivists, have also undertaken an impressive amount of original research, some which will be new even to readers very familiar with Rowlandson's life. The most remarkable and interesting aspect of this work are their discoveries on Rowlandson's family background in Kendall and Richmond, and also material relating to his collaboration with Henry Wigstead, a painter and decorator for the Prince Regent. Some of this has appeared previously as articles in the British Art Journal and elsewhere - here it is brought together for the first time in a well organised and scholarly book (there are decent footnotes and a good index). The novel material gives new insights into some aspects of Rowlandsons work (such as his fascination with carriages), making it a "must buy" for any University library with a decent History of Art collection.
Rowlandson's prolific output (estimated at over 10,000 drawings and around 3000 prints), and rather cryptic personal life presents a somewhat relentless challenge for anyone brave enough to try and make sense of it and the man - this book marshalls the almost overwhelming amount of material well with almost no errors and a great deal of intelligence.
on 3 February 2015
I picked up a copy of this work immediately after finishing Uglow's masterpiece on Hogarth and as such I was expecting a rollicking narrative of a man who should have been, if indeed he was not, Hogarth's successor. There are a number of parallels between the two but the latter, while the story seems to muddy the waters a bit, did not or was unable to live up to the former's greatness, particularly in the realm of charity for which Hogarth is rightly acknowledged. Much of Rowlandson's work drew inspiration from Hogarth but the link between the two men is scantly acknowledged in this work. Also I found the description of Rowlandson's work as a caricaturist oddly downplayed for, after all, that is how the mass see him as. What work he did in this genre wasn't, I felt, given sufficient prominence in this work. I think this might be so because Rowlandson's other work has been scantily recognised due to the lack of primary material which is what these authors bring to the table. And it is how they differentiate their work from other extent biographies. However, the prose is dull and plodding which keeps it hard to maintain interest. Whilst Uglow's treatment of Hogarth is far more weightier, It took me less time to read it than I did with the Paynes' work on Rowlandson. Still it was a worthwhile read.
on 21 August 2011
I really like Rowlandson's art and this sparked an interest in the man himself. This book gives a pretty thorough and detached overview of his life. Dry in parts, monotonous in others. But, overall, worth reading.