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Winckelmann Gallery

Thomas Rowlandson and Samuel Alken – An Italian Family – 1785

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This famous Rowlandson print entitled “An Italian Family”, represents a humble artistic Italian family practising opera. A young man stands in the centre of the image, singing energetically with his hands on his chest. Beside him to the right, an old man plays a baroque 4-string double bass. To the singer’s left, a man seated on the floor sings along while playing a harpsicord low to the ground and next to him on the far left a little boy plays the violin. On the far right, a young woman sits next to a fireplace with an infant in her lap; she holds up a cloth to dry, while singing over her shoulder. Her score, 'Affetuoso', is pinned to the mantlepiece in front of her. A greyhound sits at her side, appearing to partake in the singing. Several elements throughout the room further attest that we are viewing an Italian scene: a large macaroni bowl below the harpsicord on the far left, scattered wine bottles and an amphora to the right, a cross on the mantlepiece, Italian playbills, etc. This is part of a two-print companion series that included another print entitled: The French Family”. Below the image: “London, Pub. Dec. 1785 by S Alken. N°3 Dufours Place Broad Street Soho. Sold by W. Hinton N°5 Sweeting Alley Cornhill”.

Thomas Rowlandson (London, 13 July 1756 – 21 April 1827, London) was a prolific British artist, caricaturist and printmaker, noted for his political satire and social observation. He produced a wide variety of illustrations for novels, joke books, and topographical works. As a schoolboy at the school of Dr. Barvis in Soho Square he drew humorous characters of his master and class-mates before the age of ten. At 16, he was sent to Paris for two years, where he studied in a drawing academy and developed his skills drawing the human figure and caricature. On his return to London, he took classes at the Royal Academy. In 1775 he exhibited a drawing at the Royal Academy and two years later received a silver medal for a bas-relief figure. He was spoken of as a promising student. His drawing of Vauxhall, shown in the Royal Academy exhibition of 1784, had been engraved by Pollard, and the print was a success. Rowlandson was then largely employed by Rudolph Ackermann, the art publisher, where he illustrated many popular publications. Rowlandson died at home in London in 1827 after a prolonged illness. He was buried at St. Paul’s, Covent Garden.

Samuel Alken Sr. (London, 22 October 1756 – 9 November 1815, London) was an English artist, a leading exponent of the newly developed technique of aquatint. He entered the Royal Academy Schools, London, as a sculptor in 1772. He published A New Book of Ornaments Designed and Etched by Samuel Alken in 1779, and later established himself as one of the most competent engravers in the new technique of aquatint.

Sources: The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Encyclopedia Britannica; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Sherry, James (1978). "Distance and Humor; The Art of Thomas Rowlandson". Eighteenth-Century Studies.

Artists: Thomas Rowlandson / Samuel Alken (aquatint)
Medium: Hand-coloured etching and aquatint.
Condition: Very good condition.
Dimensions: 40 x 52 cm. / 15 ¾ x 20 ½ in. (View).
Frame: 56.2 x 66.5 cm. / 22 ¼ x 26 ¼ in. Gilt wood, contemporary classic. Matting and glass.
Origin: United Kingdom.