Thomas Rowlandson and the Angry Red Pencils

I‘ve been reading the wonderful World of Simon Raven, a collection of writings by the notorious English cad. It’s excellent stuff (although, strangely, that’s not Raven on the cover), and in an extract from the late lamented Erotic Review, he takes a moment to remind us of Thomas Rowlandson – even if it’s only to say “he can’t do penises properly. They all look like pencils with angry red ends.”

Unkind, but not untrue. Rowlandson, for those unfamiliar with him, was an English cartoonist, contemporary of James Gillray and George Cruikshank, and remembered both for his part in popularising the character of John Bull, and for his erotic prints. He was also a pretty Bookkake-ish character:

He was born in Old Jewry, in the City of London, the son of a tradesman or city merchant. On leaving school he became a student at the Royal Academy. At the age of sixteen, he lived and studied for a time in Paris, and he later made frequent tours to the Continent, enriching his portfolios with numerous jottings of life and character. In 1775 he exhibited a drawing of Delilah visiting Samson in Prison, and in the following years he was represented by various portraits and landscapes. He was spoken of as a promising student; and had he continued his early application he would have made his mark as a painter. But by the death of his aunt, a French lady, he inherited £7,000, plunged into the dissipations of the town and was known to sit at the gaming-table for thirty-six hours at a stretch.

Poverty was the spur, however, to develop his caricatures and cartoons, and he left us a legacy of much-admired prints. Wikimedia Commons has a rather good collection, and we present a number here…

Posted August 19, 2009 by James Bridle. Comments Off on Thomas Rowlandson and the Angry Red Pencils

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