Rowlandson's Etching Proofs for Ackermann's 'Microcosm of London'
- Dates: May 29, 1939 through October 1, 1939
- Organizing Department: Prints, Drawings and Photographs
- Collections: European Art
May 27, 1939: An exhibition of etching proofs by Thomas Rowlandson, never shown in America before, “Microcosm of London,” will be on view at the Brooklyn Museum from May 29th to July 16th. There will be 25 uncolored proofs and 14 proofs handcolored by Rowlandson, in collaboration with Augustus Pugin who did the architectural part of the plates, which served as guides for the aquatinter. The collection has been lent to the Museum by W. G. Russell Allen, of Boston, Massachusetts.
Proofs of the “Microcosm” are of the utmost rarity. With the exception of Mr. Allen’s the largest print collections in this country do not include any. This book, which is the most important document on early 19th century life in England, was issued in three volumes in 1810 by Rudolf Ackermann (1764-1834) an inventor and publisher. It contains 105 plates in color, each plate having been done jointly by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) and Augustus Pugin (1769-1032). Ackermann commissioned Pugin to do the architectural drawing and Rowlandson then supplied the figures. A copy of the finished 3 volume work, lent by the Weyhe Galleries, is also on display.
When the preliminary design had been transferred to the plates and etched, a few proofs of each were pulled, with the design shown entirely in outline and in pure etching. The artists then colored the proofs by hand, and these proofs were given as guides to the craftsman who added the aquatint. The plates were inked with several neutral tints of grey, brown and ochre, and printed, probably in one printing only. The remaining colors were then added by hand by special workmen.
Aside from their rarity, the untinted proofs are interesting as conveying the artists’ draftsmanship better than those showing the color, as the aquatint and handcoloring of the edition concealed much of the delicacy of the original work.
The following quotation from the preface to the “Microcosm” explains why the work was divided between the two artists.
“The great objection that men fond of the fine arts have hitherto made to engravings on architectural subjects has been that the building and figures have almost invariably been designed by the same artists. In consequence of this, the figures have been generally neglected, or are of a very inferior cast, and totally unconnected with the other part of the print...The architectural part of the subjects that are contained in this work will be delineated with the utmost precis1~on and care, by Mr. Pugin, whose uncommon accuracy and elegant taste have been displayed in his former productions. With respect to the figures, they are from the pencil of Mr. Rowlandson, with whose professional talents the public are already so well acquainted, that it is not necessary to expatiate on them here.”
Date unknown, approximately 1939: Rowlandson etching proofs for Rudolph Ackermann’s “Microcosm of London,” a work in three volumes published in 1810, will be shown for the first time in this country in an exhibition that will open at the Brooklyn Museum on Monday, May 29th. The work is from the W. G. Russell Allen Collection in Boston and is an exhibition of the Museum library.
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1939. 04-07/1939, 131. View Original
Date unknown, approximately 1939: The exhibition described in the enclosed release is available for review on Monday, May 29th, when photographs and list of the exhibited items will be available at the Sales Desk for the Press. The exhibition will continue through July 16th. Photographs taken at special request can be delivered in 36 hours or less.
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1939. 04-07/1939, 140. View Original
Date unknown, approximately 1939: Print Gallery Entrance West Wall on Left
St. Luke’s Hospital
East India Company, the sale room
Session House, Clerkenwell
Magdalen Chapel, Magdalen House
Bow Street Office
Board Room of the Admiralty
The Hall and Staircase, British Museum
The Roman Catholic Chapel
Fire in London
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Water Engine, Coldbath Fields Prison
The Hall, Blue Coat School
St. Margarets, Westminster
New Stock Exchange
The Royal Cockpit, Bird Cage Walk
The Asylum, or House of Refuge for Friendless and Homeless Girls
Drawing from Life at the Royal Academy
A View of Astley’s Amphitheatre
Convent Garden Theatre
The Pillory, Charing Cross
Library of the Royal Institution
The Long Room, Custom House
Pass Room, Bridewell
Exhibition Room, Somerset House
Common Council Chamber, Guildhall
Bartholomew Fair, Smithfield
The Great Hall, Carlton House
Exhibition of the Society of Painters in Watercolours
ACKERMANN’S MICROCOSM OF LONDON Published 1810
FINISHED PLATES WITH ADDED AQUATINT PRINTED IN COLOR Volumes 1, 2 and 3
Water Engine, Coldbath Fields prison
New Stock Exchange
Common Council Chamber, Guildhall
Lent by Weyhe Galleries
Date unknown, approximately 1939: An addition to the exhibition of etcher’s proofs by Thomas Rowlandson at the Brooklyn Museum is announced by Carl O. Schniewind, Curator of Prints and Drawings. This is a rare and important copy of the “Microcosm of London” lent the Museum for the occasion by the Alden Galleries, Kansas City, Mo. With the addition of the three volumes from the Alden Galleries the Museum is enabled to present the first complete record of the “Microcosm” probably ever shown in America or Europe.
This copy of the “Microcosm” belonged to Augustus Pugin, who did the architectural part of the plates shown in the body of the exhibition, with Rowlandson putting in the figures. The three bound volumes contain 121 pencil and some brush drawings and watercolours, 104 aquatint proofs in black and white, 107 proofs of the finished plates printed in color, and the text of the first edition.
The drawings frequently have notes and suggestions written on them by Rowlandson and Pugin, giving an Interesting insight into the collaboration of the two artists.
The finished plates may be studied through the following stages: 1. A “first impression” sketch in pen and ink, sometimes with a brush wash of the architectural setting by Pugin. 2. A very accurate pencil drawing of the architecture by Pugin, with the figures added in delicate outline in pencil by Rowlandson, and with the composition frequently surrounded by Rowlandson’s meticulously detailed sketches of the figure and studies of their costumes and gestures. 3. A few watercolors of the finished composition. 4. The etcher’s proofs, of which there are none in Pugin’s copy, these being the plates on exhibition from The W. G. Russell Allen Collection. 5. Trial proofs of each plate, with a delicate aquatint imitating a wash coloring printed in a simple grey tone. 6. The finished plates, printed in color and touched up by hand.
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1939. 04-07/1939, 149. View Original
Date unknown, approximately 1939: Now that the rush of openings of large exhibitions in connection with the World’s Fair seems to be over, we are resubmitting the release on the exhibition of Rowlandson’s Etching Proofs which we sent you before the exhibition opened but which seems to have been crowded out of your columns. We are sending you this material again in the hope that you will have some space for it now.
THE BROOKLYN MUSEUM
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1939. 04-07/1939, 165. View Original
Date unknown, approximately 1939: The exhibition of Rowlandson’s Etching Proofs for Ackermann’s “Microcosm of London,” view at the Brooklyn Museum, which was to close at the end of July has been continued through October 1st.
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1939 - 1941. 07-09/1939, 177. View Original