Thomas Rowlandson, long-time hero of mine and of all artists of the sly-eye, has a show at The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY . You can imagine my joy and honor to be asked by curator Patricia Phagan to do a talk at the gallery. Here are a few of the pieces that I found especially exciting to see at long last . . . in the flesh.
Rowlandson was a denizen of the street-life of London, 1770’s-1800’s. He was a searing observer as well as a master of etching and watercolor, and practiced those media unlike anyone before or since.
Here’s one of my favorites: The Miseries of Travelling, 1807. The shapes are of the travails of extra-large passengers on coaches of the time, but also explorations of masses moving in space. The lines of power, the tension of volumes in relationship, worked out as in an abstraction.
In this one, The Prize Fight you really need to move in and take time looking. The figures, in the hundreds, are all beautifully realized and carefully thought through, even down to the least visible, in his unique atmospheric watercolor perspective.
It has humor, time and place, and amazing atmosphere. A Robert Altman movie (if he had had 10 hours).
His political cartoons are funny and strong, but not from the heart. He will switch sides and not care too much about why. He had to eat, after all. Here he kicks up at the Duchess of Devonshire, an aristocrat who campaigned for the Whigs; rejecting her class and embracing the working classes. Tommy finds it funny. Of course he had some King George payola to sweeten his day.
Here’s his take on the artist’s life in The Chamber of Genius. Seems awfully familiar to me.
Here are some observed hazards of carriage riding. Every moment is caught and savored by his stylus. Very funny and very rich.
Thanks to Patricia Phagan and everyone at the Loeb for getting me back in touch with a great old friend.
And special thanks to Cynthia Rose for the photography.