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Thomas Rowlandson - Tattersall's - an auction of a thoroughbred at Grosvenor Place

Thomas Rowlandson

Tattersall's - an auction of a thoroughbred at Grosvenor Place

Black and grey ink and watercolour: 11(h) x 17(w) in / 27.9(h) x 43.2(w) cm
Signed and dated 1785

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BX 146



1756 - London - 1827


Tattersall’s: an auction of a thoroughbred at Grosvenor Place


Signed lower left: T. Rowlandson / 1785.

Black and grey ink and watercolour: 11 x 17 in / 27.9 x 43.8 cm

Frame size: 20 3/8 x 26 ½ in / 51.8 x 67.3 cm



George Greville, 4th Earl of Warwick (1818-1893);

his estate sale, Christie’s London, 20th-21st May 1896, lot 339 (An auction sale of horses; £42 to Gribble);

HW Bruton;

by descent in a private collection, UK



Thomas Rowlandson is among the most celebrated chroniclers of Georgian life. We see its assemblies, race meetings, gambling parties, amorous exploits and hunting adventures through the prism of his wiry line and delicate watercolour washes. Unlike his friend James Gillray (1756-1815), Rowlandson’s satire is never bitter or partisan. He enjoyed humanity too much to disapprove of it.


This watercolour was made in 1785, when Rowlandson was at the height of his powers. Brought up by a French Huguenot aunt, the wife of a prosperous Spitalfields silk weaver, Rowlandson was probably bilingual and made several trips to France, beginning in 1774. He visited the Paris Salon in 1781 and was influenced by French drawing practice. Until 1780 Rowlandson had used pen and ink with occasional grey washes. From the beginning of that decade he employed delicate watercolour washes to enhance the pen line, producing what were known as ‘tinted drawings’.


Tattersall’s auction is a lively example of Rowlandson’s style of the 1780s, with his easy, serpentine pen line capturing nuances of dress, body language and character. A high-mettled chestnut thoroughbred, the pivot of the composition, is just coming under the hammer, watched by a crowd of the intrigued, the sceptical and the cynical. Two gentlemen are striking a bargain in the left foreground. To the right, another group appraises a bay horse, while two terriers watch with enthusiasm. Friezelike compositions were favoured by Rowlandson, who could orchestrate a crowd to move the eye around the picture, conveying the jostling of the dense melée by the auctioneer’s rostrum and the psychological ticks of the smaller groups. His drawing style was influenced not only by the rococo manner of William Hogarth (1697-1764), the great caricaturist of a previous generation, but by the wit and elegance of contemporary Parisian artists.


Rowlandson felt at home among the aficionados of the Turf and was no stranger to gambling: he is reputed to have run through his kindly aunt’s substantial legacy with some speed. He made a number of drawings of horse auctions, including A horse sale at Hopkins’s Repository, Barbican, c.1798-1800 (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT)[1]. Rowlandson collaborated with Augustus Charles Pugin on a watercolour of Tattersall’s Horse Repository which was published as an aquatint in Rudolph Ackermann’s The Microcosm of London (1808-10), Rowlandson drawing the figures and horses and Pugin providing the architecture.


Tattersall’s, in 1785 situated at Grosvenor Place, Hyde Park Corner near where the Lanesborough Hotel stands today, was and remains the premier bloodstock auctioneer. Founded in 1766 by Richard Tattersall (1725-1795), a former stud groom to Evelyn Pierrepoint, 2nd Duke of Kingston, it originally sold hounds as well as horses. Richard Tattersall’s success derived not only from his skill and integrity as an auctioneer, but his flair for corporate hospitality: in 1780 he added elegant subscription rooms where the high-rollers of the Jockey Club could make and settle debts. The Penny Magazine in 1831 described the bustle and excitement of the settling-times after the Monday sales: ‘a more motley assemblage than the buyers or lookers-on at such times it would be impossible to find. Noblemen and ambitious costermongers, bishops and blacklegs, horse-breeders, grooms, jockeys, mingling promiscuously with the man of retired and studious habits fond of riding and breeding the wherewithal to ride….’[2]. In 1865 Tattersall’s moved to Albert Gate, Knightsbridge and in 1965 to Newmarket, where it flourishes today as the largest bloodstock auctioneer in Europe, still selling horses in guineas.


This watercolour was formerly in the collection of the politician George Greville, 4th Earl of Warwick (1818-1893). Warwick remodelled his family seat, Warwick Castle, employing Anthony Salvin to rebuild the Great Hall in Victorian Gothic style to emphasise the romance of his ancient lineage. He was a keen collector of arms and armour, in keeping with the medieval origin of the castle. Warwick owned several drawings by Rowlandson, including Box-lobby loungers (The J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles) and The connoisseurs (private collection)[3], both painted in 1785, the same year as Tattersall’s.  






Thomas Rowlandson, Box-lobby loungers, 1785.

Pencil, pen and black and grey ink and watercolour: 14 ¾ x 22 1/8 in /37.5 x 56.2 cm.

The J Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Formerly in the collection of the 4th Earl of Warwick.



1756 - London - 1827



Thomas Rowlandson is perhaps best known for his caricatures, drawn with a meandering, rococo pen line and washed with delicate watercolour. Rowlandson was an apolitical bon viveur and unlike the more savage satire of Hogarth and Gillray, his drawings do little more than laugh gently at human foibles. Much of his finest work, including the large, complex scenes of London life, dates from the eighteenth century. He also produced a plethora of classical figure studies, portraits, marine subjects and landscapes.


The son of a bankrupt wool and silk merchant, Rowlandson was educated at Dr Barwis’s School, Soho and entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1772. He worked as a portrait painter in Wardour Street and made his first visit to Paris, where he had relatives, in 1774. Rowlandson’s first exhibit at the Royal Academy was a religious picture, Delilah payeth Samson a visit while in prison in Gaza (1775).


In 1784 Rowlandson made the first of several English sketching tours, travelling from Salisbury to Portsmouth in the company of the amateur caricaturist Henry Wigstead. He exhibited at the Royal Academy until 1787. In 1789 a substantial legacy from the French Huguenot aunt who had brought him up financed a series of tours to France, Italy, Germany and Holland, where Rowlandson gained a reputation as a high-rolling gambler. Some of these tours were undertaken in the company of a patron, the Cornish banker Mathew Michell.


By 1793 Rowlandson had gambled away his inheritance and was living in poverty, despite his prodigious artistic output. From 1797 his fortunes were saved by Rudolph Ackermann, who had opened his print shop in the Strand two years earlier. Rowlandson produced drawings for The Microcosm of London (1808-11), the three Tours of Dr Syntax (1812-21) and The English Dance of Death (1814-16). He revisited France in 1814 and Italy circa 1820, working until the onset of illness in the last two years of his life.


The work of Thomas Rowlandson is represented in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the British Museum, London; the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; the Hermitage, St Petersburg; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; the Huntington Collection, Pasadena and the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven.


[1] Inv. no.B2001.2.1133. See Judy Egerton, The Paul Mellon Collection: British Sporting and Animal Drawings c.1500-1850, pp.76, no.45; opposite p.78, colour pl.20. Another watercolour of A horse sale at Hopkins’s Repository was sold at Sotheby’s New York on 28th January 2015, lot 200.

[2] Quoted in Edward Walford, ‘The western suburbs: Belgravia’, in Old and New London: Volume 5, London, 1878, pp.1-14. British History Online 5/pp.1-14 (accessed 15th July 2019).


[3] Sold at Christie’s London, 18th November 2004, lot 6, it depicts gentlemen admiring a room full of paintings of horses. Box-lobby loungers and The Connoisseurs, like Tattersall’s, were in Warwick’s estate sale at Christie’s on 20th May 1896, lots 336, 337 and 339.