Boxing was a subject that Rowlandson depicted on a number of occasions in his prints and watercolours. The sport enjoyed an unprecedented surge in popularity during the Regency period when it was openly patronised by the Prince Regent and his brothers. Championship boxing matches acquired a louche reputation as the places to be seen by the wealthy upper classes. A match would often be attended by thousands of people, as depicted by the crowd of spectators in this watercolour, many of whom had wagered money on the outcome.
Further examples of Rowlandson’s boxing subjects dating to a similar period as the present lot include a watercolour in the Mellon Collection dating from 1787 and a slight sketch of a boxing match by him in the collection of the British Museum, dated 1785-90.
Thomas Rowlandson was a draughtsman and printmaker whose distinctive social satire has become integral to the popular vision of late Georgian Britain.
Rowlandson was born in London in 1757 and educated at Dr Barwis’ school on Soho Square before attending the Royal Academy Schools from the age of fifteen. Rowlandson lived in the centre of London throughout his life, although he made several trips to continental Europe. Unusually for a Royal Academy student, Rowlandson seems never to have worked in oils, gravitating instead towards producing sketches and etchings for the print trade.
Rowlandson began by making scabrous satires in the vein of his close friend and contemporary James Gillray, often on subjects such as the politicians William Pitt and Charles James Fox, the misdemeanours of the young prince of Wales (and future George IV), and events in post-revolutionary France. Unlike Gillray, however, he was equally adept making lyrical drawings and watercolours on a range of subjects, from imitations of Old Master paintings to picturesque landscapes.
Rowlandson worked for many print publishers but his most important employer was Rudolph Ackermann, who kept Rowlandson in almost continual employment from 1798 onwards, making drawings for a wide range of books that exploited Rowlandson’s range for lyrical topography and gentle caricature.
Rowlandson’s drawings and watercolours were also collected by many wealthy patrons. Rowlandson was healthy and industrious up until the last two years of his life. He died in 1827 and was buried in the church of St Paul’s, Covent Garden. Rowlandson’s work was neglected during the conservative Victorian period but since the 20th century he has been reappraised as one of the greatest of British graphic artists.