The High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson at The Queen’s Gallery exhibition explores Rowlandson’s life and art, it also reflects how popular his work was amongst members of the British monarchy especially George III, George IV, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Despite being the subject of some of Rowlandson’s satirical humour, George III (1738-1820) began the collection of around 1,000 caricature prints by Rowlandson in the Royal Collection today. Around 100 works by Rowlandson are on display in the exhibition, many of remarkable quality that show Rowlandson’s skill in great detail and clarity.
Thomas Rowlandson studied at the Royal Academy, a very skilled draughtsman, he developed a talent for portraiture. He also possessed a humorous outlook and an eye for the absurd which led him to design and make comical prints for London publishers. His subject matter included all elements of British life featuring fashion, love, political life and the royal family.
Satirical printmaking was enormously popular in Georgian Britain where satirical prints were shown in print shop windows and collected by the fashionable elite who often pasted them into albums, walls and decorative screens. One such screen is featured in the exhibition, some of these screens were illustrated by risqué material and were folded up and put away in polite company.
Rowlandson and other caricaturists of Georgian Britain including James Gillray, James Sayers and the Cruikshank family often attacked members of the elite especially politicians, foreign enemies and members of the royal family. The victims did not always take it in good humour and although George IV enjoyed collecting caricatures, he did suppress prints that showed him in a bad light.
Rowlandson did not set himself up as paragon of virtue, when he came into a large inheritance, he gambled and drank till it had all gone. The rest of his career saw him using his talent to make money but would face poverty periodically, this lifestyle gave him considerable insight into everyday life in an era of considerable social, cultural and political upheaval.
The political personalities of the day including Charles James Fox and William Pitt the Younger were favourite targets for Rowlandson and the exhibition has many examples of his attacks on the corrupt political system, one of the highlights is a print that features the glamorous Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who it was claimed had traded kisses for votes in the Westminster election of 1784.
The rise and fall of Napoleon is charted in a series of prints including The Two Kings of Terror, in which Napoleon and Death sit face to face on the battlefield after Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig in 1813.
Other highlights of the exhibition include Doctor Convex and Lady Concave, Sketches at – an Oratorio!, and A York Address to the Whale in which the Duke of York thanks a whale for distracting attention from accusations that his mistress was paid by army officers for securing their promotions. The exhibition also features a number of watercolours by Rowlandson which includes a number of the artist’s landscapes.
This entertaining and informative exhibition explores the work of one of the wittiest and most talented caricaturists of Georgian Britain, visitors can get a flavour of the period through the eyes of an artist who recorded the era in all its intimate detail. The quality of the prints illustrate Rowlandson’s skill as an artist and his eye for the comic and the absurdities of the age.
A ticket to this exhibition includes free access to the Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer exhibition in the Queen’ s Gallery.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information or to book tickets visit the Royal Collection website here
High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson is at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace,
13 November 2015 – 14 February 2016
Open daily, 10:00-17:30
Under 17/Disabled £5.20
Under 5 Free
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