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The Wax Model Seller

1790 - 1800
Europe, United Kingdom

Thomas Rowlandson (London, England, 1756 - 1757 - 1827, London, England)

18th century CE - 19th century CE
Pen and ink with wash on paper, 9 7/8 x 12 9/16 in.
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2006.11.51

Object Type: Drawing and Watercolor

Goedde Class
Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederic and Lucy S. Herman | January 25, 2013 - May 26, 2013

Thomas Rowlandson
English, 1756/1757–1827
The Wax Model Seller, 1790–1800
Pen and ink with wash, 9 7½8 x 12 9½16 in, 25.08 x 31.91 cm (sheet)
Provenance: T. E Lowinsky (Lugt 2420a); acquired from Colnaghi, London, 1970
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2006.11.51

The British watercolorist and printmaker Thomas Rowlandson is celebrated for his prolific production of prints and drawings satirizing British society in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In The Wax Model Seller, which typifies work from his transitional period of 1790 to 1800, Rowlandson renders a street scene with his characteristically fluent pen strokes and vivacious brushwork, abandoning labored draftsmanship for spontaneous lines suggesting attire, psychology, and social attitude.1 The fully worked-out delineation of his subjects suggests that this is a preparatory sketch for an etching, but no print of this subject is known.

Rowlandson, like William Hogarth and James Gillray, was a major figure in the efflorescence of British satirical imagery for popular consumption.2 Authors like Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and Henry Fielding wrote social satires, including Fielding’s famous novel Tom Jones, which Rowlandson illustrated. Sanctioned by publishers, newspapers, and private collectors, over 20,000 satirical and humorous images were produced during the Golden Age of Graphic Satire.3

While Hogarth’s work was famous for its moralizing undertones, Rowlandson was known for portraying scenes from life without disguised commentary.4 In this drawing, for example, Rowlandson depicts a small, but socially diverse group in front of a substantial house near a village green, gathered around an itinerant wax-model salesman. The corpulent man seated at the left is mocked not only for his gout and commitment to his drink, but also for his excessive size, to which the young woman to his left alludes in pointing to a rotund Buddha figurine. Next to them the peddler attempts to sell a model to another, impressionable young woman who gazes at a nude classical figure with a sexualized undertone typical of the artist.5 Though Rowlandson is clearly producing social commentary, he parodies general class types rather than specific individuals. These caricatural types anticipate those appearing in many works like his famous, slightly later Doctor Syntax series—indeed, the wax-model seller strongly resembles Dr. Syntax himself.6

The subject of the wax-model seller very likely carried added connotations for Rowlandson. The wax model was, like the printed image, a contemporary artistic medium, and was easily reproduced and affordable for the middle classes.7 Rowlandson perhaps draws a comparison between this street salesman and himself as he in effect peddles to the viewer one of the 10,000 works he produced over the course of his career.

Meg Lally
Sarah Seibels

1Richard M. Baum, “A Rowlandson Chronology,” Art Bulletin, 20, 1938, 243–247.
2Savory, Jerald J. Thomas Rowlandson’s Doctor Syntax Drawings: An Introduction and Guide for Collectors. London: Cygnus Arts; Madison & Teaneck: Fairleigh Hickinson University Press, 1997.5.
3Vic Gatrell, City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London, London, 2006, 9.
4Graham Everitt, English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century, 2nd ed., London, 1893, 1–6.
5Everitt, English Caricaturists, 3.
6Francesca Orestano, “The Revd William Gilpin and the Picturesque: Or, Who’s afraid of Doctor Syntax?”,” Garden History, 31, 2003, 163–179.
7Karpinski, Caroline. “Prints for Sale.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series 22, no. 6 (1964): 211–20.

Baum, Richard M. “A Rowlandson Chronology.” The Art Bulletin 20, no.3 (Sept., 1938): 237–250.
Everitt, Graham. English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century. 2nd ed. London Swan Sonnenschein Co. 1893.
Lucore, Sandra K. Form Function and Finesse: Drawings from The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation. Williamsburg: Joseph and Margaret Muscarelle Museum of Art. College of William and Mary. 1983.

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