Series of prints of London in Regency England including both exterior architectural views and interior studies from The Microcosm of London. The entire series was issued over a 26-month period and comprises over 100 scenes of London city life. It provides a fascinating glimpse at the daily life and institutions of the period, including sites that no longer exist. The architectural settings were eloquently and accurately rendered by Augustus Pugin. They served as the settings for human activity which, in turn, was depicted by Thomas Rowlandson. Although Rowlandson is known for humor and satire, the prints in The Microcosm of London are more documentary, though his eye for telling detail and his ability to convey lively activity is quite evident.
The prints offered here (shown above) include scenes of London’s legal and business institutions such as the Court of Common Pleas, the Mint, the Custom House, India House and the Bank of England, and of cultural venues such as the New Covent Garden Theatre and the Royal Circus. Social activities are also shown, such as partygoers dancing at the Pantheon Masquerade. Medical, scientific and military institutions depicted include the Foundling Hospital, the Surrey Institution and the Admiralty.
Thomas Rowlandson was an English caricaturist, watercolorist, draughtsman and engraver. He was born in London, and as a teenager studied briefly in Paris with the financial support of a wealthy aunt, before he returned to London to attend the Royal Academy. He began his artistic career painting straightforward portraits, which he exhibited at the Academy from 1778 to 1781, but gradually turned to genre subjects — gently humorous depictions of life in the cities and the countryside, full of lively detail. Rowlandson became part of the burgeoning caricature and humor scene of turn-of-the-century London, which included James Gillray, Isaac Cruikshank, and H.W. Bunbury. From about 1782 he provided drawings regularly for publishers such as Fores and Ackermann. Rowlandson had a recognizable style of expressive, bold outline, brown washes to suggest the general lighting and setting, and additional local color to spotlight the main action. For his prints he frequently etched the outline on the copper plate himself, with engravers applying the aquatint and hand color after his watercolor original. Major works include The Microcosm of London (1808-10), Miseries of Life (1808), and the series beginning with Tour of Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque (1812), followed by other “Dr. Syntax” collections in the 1820s. Rowlandson’s works are collected by major museums, notably the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Augustus Charles Pugin was an architectural draftsman, born in France, who fled to England during the French Revolution. He eventually found employment with the architect Nash, while also studying architectural drawing at the Royal Academy and the aquatint process with the engraver Merigot. He supplied architectural drawings for many publications of the period, including the backdrops for Thomas Rowlandson’s figures in The Microcosm of London series (1808-10). Pugin was active in the Gothic revival movement in British architecture, contributing an influential series of illustrated works on Gothic buildings that popularized the style, including Specimens of Gothic Architecture (1821-23), Examples of Gothic Architecture (1828-31) and Gothic Ornaments from Ancient Buildings in England and France (1831).
Ackermann & Co. was a prominent British publisher and printseller. The firm was founded by Rudolph Ackermann (1764-1834), publishing as R. Ackermann from 1795 to 1829. Ackermann was born in Germany and came to England in the 1780s. He pioneered lithography in Britain (though frequently working with color-printed etchings and aquatints), and became a leading publisher of fine colorplate books, decorative prints and magazines, as well as sheet music of the Regency period. In 1797, Ackermann relocated the business premises to 101 Strand, which were known by 1798 as “The Repository of Arts,” also the title of a periodical with a large number of prints that he published from 1809 to 1828. As suggested by the full title of the publication, Ackermann’s Repository of the Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics, the subject matter of the Repository was wide ranging. Among the most influential and popular images in the series were studies of Regency decorative arts, interior design and fashion, as well as various city and country views. Ackermann was a major patron of British artists and designers, notably the famous caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827), whose works were featured in the famous set of London interiors and exteriors entitled Microcosm of London (1808-10). Ackermann also manufactured and sold art supplies. In 1829, Rudolph transferred the business to three of his sons, who traded as Ackermann & Co. from 1829 to 1859. The business continued until the end of the 20th century, last operating as Arthur Ackermann and Son (with offices in the 20th Century in London, Paris, Chicago and New York).
Full publication information: R.A. Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, 101 Strand, London.
Condition: Each generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear.
Maxted, Ian. “The London book trades 1775-1800: a preliminary checklist of members.” Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History. U.K.: Devon Library and Information Services. 24 January 2005. http://www.devon.gov.uk/etched?_IXP_=1&_IXR=111144 (4 May 2007).
“Rudolph Ackermann.” National Portrait Gallery. May 2007. http://www.npg.org.uk/live/search/person.asp?LinkID=mp06540 (4 May 2007).
“Thomas Rowlandson.” The Grove Dictionary of Art. New York: Macmillan. 2000. Artnet.com. (21 January 2009).
Williamson, George C., ed. Bryan’s Dictionary of Painters and Engravers. London: G. Bell and Sons: 1930. Vol,. 4, p. 166 (Pugin), p. 291 (Rowlandson).