High spirits at the Holburne.


Portly squires and young dandies – Jane Austenesque heroines and their gruesome chaperones – dashing young officers and corrupt politicians. The absurdities of fashion, the perils of love, political machinations and royal intrigue were the daily subject matter of Thomas Rowlandson(1757–1827), one of the leading caricaturists of Georgian Britain.

Doctor Convex and Lady Concave, 20 November 1802 Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827) Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
Doctor Convex and Lady Concave, 20 November 1802
Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827)
Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Rowlandson’s incisive and enduringly popular caricatures are celebrated in an exhibition from Royal Collection Trust which is coming to the Holburne Museum from Saturday, September 27th through to February 8th, 2015.

The exhibition is called High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson and will bring together some of the artist’s finest prints and drawings from the important collection of his work, held in the Royal Collection.

In Rowlandson’s time, the satirical print was one of London’s most important artistic products, and he made a major contribution to the success of this genre. Such works were collected by the fashionable for their albums, pasted to walls and screens as decoration, and laughed over at dinner parties and in coffee houses.

Among Rowlandson’s eager collectors was the young George, Prince of Wales (1762–1830), later George IV, himself a gambler, drinker and magnet for scandal.

At the same time, the Prince and his brothers had a fraught relationship with caricaturists, often finding themselves the butt of vicious attacks on their lifestyle, affairs, and attempts to interfere in politics.
Rowlandson turned his pen on Britain’s enemy Napoleon Bonaparte, the fast-living Charles James Fox, the ambitious William Pitt the Younger and the glamorous and scandalous Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. London high society, too, was the focus of many of his caricatures, which revelled in the absurdities of fashion, the cult of theatrical celebrity and the perils of love. Not even Bath could escape his sardonic eye. Also on display will be some of Rowlandson’s gentle English views which, though never intended as satire, are infused with gentle humour.
Comical, irreverent, clever and prolific, Thomas Rowlandson produced work which is as amusing today as it was when it was published. His witty prints and drawings provide a first- hand account of political machinations and royal intrigue set against the comedy of manners that was Georgian Britain.
The Holburne’s showing of the exhibition will include a specially selected group of prints inspired by life in Bath: the complete series of twelve Comforts of Bath and the 1810 satire Bath Races.
First shown at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh Friday, 22 November 2013 to Sunday, 2 March 2014. Showing at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, in 2015.
Catalogue published by Royal Collection Trust:
High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson by Kate Heard, 2013