Thomas Rowlandson

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Thomas Rowlandson (rō´ləndsən), 1756–1827, English caricaturist, b. London. He studied at the Royal Academy and in Paris, but his passion for gambling prevented him from producing much until c.1782, when he was obliged to earn a living. As a humorous caricaturist and critical commentator of the social scene, Rowlandson quickly gained celebrity. His drawing Vauxhall Gardens (1784) was a great success, as was his series of drawings The Comforts of Bath that was reproduced in 1789. This was followed by the famous Tour of Dr. Syntax (series in 3 vol., 1812–21), Dance of Death (1814–16), and Dance of Life (1822)—all with text by William Combe. Rowlandson also illustrated Smollett, Goldsmith, Sterne, and Swift. Most of his drawings were first done in ink with a reed pen and given a delicate wash of color. The fluidity of his line is likened to the French rococo, but the spirited humor of his work, sometimes almost coarse, is in the English style. His work is represented in the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum.

See studies by R. Paulson (1972) and J. Hayes (1972).

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Rowlandson, Thomas (1756/7–1827). Artist. Social commentator rather than caricaturist, sardonic rather than angry, Rowlandson's eye for life's comedies and absurdities led him to favour types rather than individuals, burlesque rather than biting satire. A Royal Academy student and fascinated by physiognomy, his prodigious output of pen-drawings, water-colours, and prints, demonstrating mastery of line and billowing rococo shapes, were so full of gusto that he has been seen as a personification of his age. If inclined to the characteristic excesses of the period (hard drinking, gambling, promiscuity), his view of the world depicted its manners, vices, politics, and incidents, but without censoriousness. A friend of Gillray, he worked for the publisher Ackermann, creating ‘Dr Syntax’, but technique and vision suffered after 1800 in consequence of his productivity, and he founded no school.

A. S. Hargreaves