138. ROWLANDSON, Thomas (1756-1827).
[A Book Auction]. [London:] 1811. Original pen, brown ink and watercolor on paper (7 1/8 x 11 1/8 inches; 180 x 282mm.), signed and dated lower right “Rowlandson 1811”. Matted, framed and glazed.
rowlandson’s masterly distilliation of the human drama of a book auction at the beginning of the 19th century. this is one of three known versions of this image, but this is the only signed and dated. This image shows the auctioneer taking bids from a generally attentive crowd of dealers, collectors, bibliophiles and maybe even the odd bibliomaniac: most of whom are seated at the horse-shoe shaped table and bench. Within the ring of the benches the porter carries round an oblong folio, garnering fascinated attention from a standing but stooped almost-toothless potential bidder who leans forward to take a closer look. In the background are four shelves of books, a double-hemisphere wall-map and a globe in the niche over the doorway.
Neither of the two other examples of this composition are signed or dated. The first is part of the Paul Mellon collection at the Yale Center for British Art. A pen, ink and watercolor drawing (6 x 10 inches; 152 x 252mm.), it was bought at Colnaghi's in 1962, and was shown in the “Pursuit of Happiness” exhibition, in 1977, at the Yale Center, catalog number 49. The second example is in the corporate collection of the fine art auctioneers Sotheby's. The beginning of the 19th century was a great time to be a book collector in London with money: religious and political upheaval on the continent of Europe ensured a seemingly constant and plentiful supply of great books onto the market. These great books attracted great collectors, like the 2nd Earl Spencer, and the 5th Duke of Marlborough, who, with a handful of others, forced the prices of books (particularly the great incunables) to unheard-of levels. The book auctions attracted the public's attention as never before: this image, and the fact that it was worth Rowlandson's while to produce three versions of the same watercolor all attest to that high level of interest.
est. $40000 – £60000