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There are more than a thousand works by the Georgian satirical cartoonist Thomas Rowlandson (1758 – 1827) in the Royal Collection. The Prince of Wales (later George IV) bought most of these, not as a connoisseur (which he was), but rather in a vain attempt to reduce the circulation – among the aristocracy at any rate, for he always bought the best examples. Queen Victoria, by contrast, adored them. We’d like to think that her reputation as a dour moralist has by now been well and truly scotched.

Rowlandson, like his exact contemporary James Gillray, was a Londoner. As an artist he was formally trained. He was a bon viveur, a prankster. Any money he had, he spent. He sometimes lived in damp and dismal accommodation. But free spirit that he was, he knew he could draw his way out of trouble when he needed to, and he did. His work wasn’t as angry as Gillray’s nor as moralising as Hogarth’s before him. One senses it was a bit cleverer than theirs; that ideas came to him more easily and simply flew off his pen as they did.

A new show at the Queen’s Gallery features around a hundred examples of Rowlandson’s works from the collection. They clearly demonstrate the scope and facility of his mind and pen. His talent as a caricaturist is demonstrated in this Hogarthian set of “types”.

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His more overtly political works take direct pot-shots at Royalty and the leading politicians and celebrities of the day (Pitt the Younger, Fox, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire etc.)

A whale swept up the Thames was making the news, detracting from the Duke of York's failings. Here he beseeches the creature to stick around.

A whale which had been beached at Gravesend was making the news, detracting from the Duke of York’s failings. Here he beseeches the creature to stick around.

The nation was fascinated by the French Revolution toward the end of a century of frequent conflict with France. Here are two examples of the same cartoon –  The Contrast – demonstrating how English Liberty was far superior to its French equivalent, very much grist to the mill. Overtly propagandistic, the uncoloured version was priced at only 3d, encouraging the widest possible distribution. Very much a you-never-had-it-so-good sentiment. This work also appeared recently at the Magna Carta exhibition at the British Library.
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After Trafalgar, there was a possibility that Nelson’s body would be transferred to another ship to be transported home, but the sailors of the Victory were having none of it. No real axe to grind, this patriotic and sentimental print makes the point. Nelson’s body was conveyed in a barrel of brandy of course, but hey.

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It would another half century before cartoons like this appeared in newspapers and magazines. They were distributed individually from print shops at prices ranging typically from one to eight shillings. Collectors tended to mount them in volumes to be handed around on social occasions. Buyers and those who couldn’t afford to collect would eagerly browse the latest examples in print shop windows. The back wall of the exhibition has a selection displayed in this way to give you a sense of the print shop window. I works rather well.
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And here is a rare and interesting survival: a screen decorated with cut-outs from the leading satirical prints. The wealthy could afford both to collect prints and to cut them up.

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These examples can but give you a tiny taste of the show, for this is a substantial and important exhibition, a must for anyone interested in the late-Georgian satire boom, the likes of which were not seen again until the early 1960s.

High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson, runs at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace
from Friday, 13 November 2015 to Sunday, 14 February 2016. Entrance is £10.00

Note. Included in your ticket is another quite exquisite exhibition running in the gallery over the same period: Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer.

All images courtesy Royal Collection Trust. Photos: Mike Paterson.

 

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©NOBBY CLARK +44(0)7941-515770 +44(0)20-7274-2105 nobby@nobbyclark.co.ukVirtually every time I ask someone if they’ve heard about the new play Mr Foote’s Other Leg, most say: “Is that about Michael Foot?” Deep breath. No, it’s about the eighteenth century playwright, satirist, actor, theatre owner and impresario Samuel Foote. In his day, he was massive: one of the most famous men in London, the equal of Garrick. But the great news is that – largely thanks to historian Ian Kelly – Foote is emerging triumphant from the 21st Century shadows. First there was Kelly’s biography of 2012, then his play which has just ended its sold-out run at the Hampstead Theatre.

However, the biggest boost to the old Georgian trouper was the play’s transfer to the Theatre Royal Haymarket on Wednesday for a limited run as we reported recently. The significance of this cannot be overstated, for this was Foote’s own playhouse and the royal warrant was granted to him personally. Samuel Foote has come home.

But what about the play itself?

It is very funny. It has to be, because Foote himself was the funniest man in London. From the opening scene with Frank Barber and Mrs Garner rifling through John Hunter’s laboratory, the audience is roaring and this continues throughout. There are constant witty asides aimed at luminaries such as Samuel Johnson, David Garrick and in particular, Handel – celebrities one and all on the London scene. But this being Georgian London, Handel and Germans in general draw most of the fire, reflecting a casual xenophobia which today is practically illegal.

As a whole the play covers the trajectory of Foote’s professional life starting as new boy from Cornwall at Charles Macklin’s informal acting academy (a brilliant ensemble scene) through the toast of Georgian London to life-threatening accident, mental illness, scandal and ignominy. As the play progresses, so too does the comedy darken and the scenes become charged with sadness, not just for Foote, but those around him too. For his is loved. The transformation of mood is skillfully paced.

Charles Macklin's acting lesson.

Charles Macklin’s acting lesson.

Kelly’s aforementioned book is deeply researched and scrupulously delivered. This is not an imperative with drama, so he takes liberties which don’t affect the gist of the story one bit but add much colour (literally in the case of Frank Barber who was Samuel Johnson’s black butler, not Foote’s) and help to keep the audience more closely connected. The surgeon John Hunter, though well enough acquainted with Foote, did not actually perform the amputation of the actor’s leg. Benjamin Franklin – resident in London for some sixteen years – didn’t loom large in Foote’s world, but here he is, talking frequently direct to the audience in a sort of chorus role (a neat touch is whenever Franklin is on stage we hear the eerie sound of the daft musical instrument he invented – the glass armonica). And so on.

All the perfomances are wonderful with special mentions to Jenny Galloway as Mrs Garner (hilarious) and Dervla Kirwan as Peg Woofington (hilarious and tragic, both). But what makes this play really tick is the outstanding performance of Simon Russell Beale. He looks just like Foote, he has taken possession of Foote and Foote in turn possesses him. He takes the funny bits, the poignant bits, the heartbreaking bits and makes them sing. Great, great acting.

Mr Foote’s Other Leg is written by Ian Kelly, directed by Richard Eyre and will run at the Theatre Royal Haymarket for 12 weeks.

All images ©Nobby Clark.

The operation. Gasps from the audience!

The operation. Gasps from the audience!

©NOBBY CLARK +44(0)7941-515770 +44(0)20-7274-2105 nobby@nobbyclark.co.uk

Garrick, Foote and Woofington.

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mr foote's other leg by ian kelly

So wrote Lord Byron, a man born some 11 years after the demise of Samuel Foote. Foote was possibly the most famous man in London in the mid 18C, yet all but forgotten today. He was an author, impersonator, actor, comedian and playwright in an age of polymaths. Johnson, Garrick, Fielding, Boswell and Reynolds were among his many admirers. Yet none attended his funeral in 1777 and Byron’s is the funny man’s only literary epitaph.

Mr Foote’s Other Leg may read like a work of fiction, but it is the true story of one of London’s big personalities at the dawn of celebrity.  At the risk of spoilers, Foote’s story includes fratricide and a hanging; debtors’ prison; coffee houses; bigamy; kings and aristocrats; an amputation; a court case; and theatre, always theatre.

Like many of his successful conteporaries such as Reynolds, Johnson and Garrick, Foote was a provincial, in his case a Cornishman. Short and plain of face, his talents were impersonation, satire and wit, all highly prized and appreciated among London’s oh-so-clever coffee-house intelligensia.

This meticulously researched book tells his story, the tale of an unstoppable trajectory to fame, which from the rock-bottom of the debtor’s prison is almost Whittington-esque. London’s theatre-goers loved him, flocking every summer season to his Little Theatre in the Haymarket. A guilty conscience on the part of the Duke of York saw Foote’s establishment gain a royal patent, raising it up to the Theatre Royal we know today. Yet in the end, our hero’s fortunes took a rapid dive into scandal and ignominy.

A remarkable story, then. The added value, though, for the curious historian, is what Kelly weaves in. He tells us about the 18C London Theatre (plus Dublin for good measure); we learn all about the phenomenal rise and culture of London coffee shops, one in particular: The Bedford, which was the favourite hang-out of thesps, impresarios, agents, etc; we are then turned into experts on the latest amputation techniques as practised by London’s leading surgeons. Although he didn’t actually conduct the amputation, it won’t surprise you to discover that John Hunter was one of  Foote’s physicians, and a personal friend.

On top of all this, I picked up things I did not know on the criminal courts, contemporary newspapers and much else. For Kelly doesn’t do “mention in passing”; every interesting stone in the narrative, he lifts up and takes a good look, then shares his findings with you; hence he succeeds in whetting one’s appetite for myriad other topics, leaving you a bit daunted, yet excited and wanting more. This is what raises this book above the extraordinary: Mr Foote’s Other Leg is a wonderful work of history and if you’re quick you’ll probably be able to treat yourself for Christmas.

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Mr Foote’s Other Leg by Ian Kelly (462pp) is published by Picador. Cover price is £18.99 but available for around £11.

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This exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in Little Russell Street has already been running for about a month and will continue until 8 April. It celebrates the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee by sharing with us a selection of Royalty-related cartoons from 1952 to the present. Early efforts in the 1950s tended to depict the Royal Family realistically rather than as caricatures, and made sure of being nothing less than deferential all the way. This attitude at least pretty much remained like that – more or less – until the 1980s onwards, despite the “satire boom” of the 60s. And even so, with a few notable exceptions such as Steve Bell and Martin Rowson, most cartoonists seem to remain fairly respectful. But none comes close to the high-water mark Georgian days of Gilray, Cruikshank, Rowlandson and their ilk. Brutal. Or certain contemporary stuff from the Continent today.

Still. This excellent exhibition has something for everyone: the social historian, the satire fan, both the republican and the monarchist, or the cartoon aficionado (me). Along with a good dose of nostalgia. Virtually all notable cartoonists of the era are represented. Back in the day, every Dad usually had the Giles annual at Christmas: there are many pieces here by Carl Giles. That gift to satirists, the Duke of Edinburgh, writes the script himself, so he is richly represented. My absolute favourite item, part of a larger piece, is a drawing by Steve Bell of the Princess of Wales as a coquettish, sulking teenager. It is perfect.

The selection below – at 500 pixels each – gives a flavour but doesn’t come close to doing the cartoonists’ justice like the real thing. So do try and make it to this excellent show if you can. The Cartoon Museum’s next show, starting 11 April, is mouthwatering: HM Bateman. Don’t be The Man Who Missed the Bateman Exhibition!

Cartoon Museum London Her Maj

Today, 1987 ©Martin Rowson

Cartoon Museum London Her Maj

Queen Elizabeth II, 2002 by Trog (Wally Fawkes) ©Cartoon Museum

Cartoon Museum London, Her Maj

The Oldie, 2008 ©Martin Honeysett

Cartoon Museum, London, Her Maj

If… Guardian, 22 November 2010 ©Steve Bell

Cartoon Museum, London, Her Maj

Independent, 18 May 2011 © Dave Brown/Independent

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