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Thomas Rowlandson ( 1756 - 1827 )  Category ( Artists ) [suggest a correction]

Thomas RowlandsonThomas Rowlandson was an eighteenth-century English artist. He was born in the Old Jewry section of the City of London, the son of a tradesman or merchant. Upon completing his early education, he enrolled at the Royal Academy. At age sixteen he traveled to Paris for further study, and made frequent tours to the Continent for further observation and refining of his skills. His first major exhibition was held in 1775, and he quickly became a popular portrait and landscape painter. However, while still a very young man, a rich aunt died, leaving him a fortune. He abandoned his work and began a life of dissipations. At one point he was known to sit at the gamin-table for thirty-six hours at a stretch.

Soon poverty overtook Rowlandson and he turned to caricature as a means to support himself. Rowlandson was at length employed by Rudolph Ackermann, an art publisher, who issued a series of plates by Rowlandson. He also produced a collection of erotic prints and woodcuts, many of which would be considered pornographic today. He continued to publish with Ackerman, including the English Dance of Death, which is considered to be among Rowlandson's finest works. His designs were also published in The Spirit of the Public Journals, The English Spy, and The Humorist.

Rowlandson's designs were usually done in outline with the reed-pen, and delicately washed with color. They were then etched by the artist on the copper, then aquatinted, usually by a professional engraver. The final impression was accomplished by hand coloring. He was known for his facility and ease of draughtsman ship, though he was often hasty, giving some of his work the appearance of over-production. Much of his work dealt with social critiques, a quality which lent itself well to satire and caricature. Like many of his countrymen, Rowlandson was horrified by the way the authorities treated people who attended a meeting to hear Henry Hunt speak on parliamentary reform. As a result of the Peterloo Massacre, Rowlandson drew one of his most overtly political drawings. Never a proud man, he even created a caricature of himself, portraying a bloated, dissipated man at table.

Due to his lifestyle choices, Rowlandson suffered early and often from poor health. His hard living led to prolonged illness, from which he died in 1827.

Image: Discomforts of an Epicure; self-portrait by Thomas Rowlandson from 1787 to prove that he could aim his caricatures at himself.

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