It seems as though I say this every time an original work by Thomas Rowlandson pops up at auction, but this watercolour really is one of the nicest examples of his work that I’ve seen in quite some time. The Conoisseur and Tired Boy [sic] is based on a now lost oil painting of 1773 by the artist Henry Morland (1716 – 1797), father of the famous rustic genre painter George Morland (1763 – 1804). A gorgeous mezzotint copy of the original was produced by Philip Dawe, Morland Senior’s former apprentice (fl. 1750 – 1791), in November 1773 and published by Robert Sayer (below right). It’s not clear whether Rowlandson took his inspiration from the original painting (which was exhibited on a number of occasions in 1775) or Dawe’s mezzotint. Given that Rowlandson’s picture is set out in the manner of a print, with the title of the image at the bottom of the paper, I’m tempted to suggest that it was probably the latter. I would also guess that Rowlandson was working from memory when he drew his picture, as he would presumably not have misspelled the title if he’d had a copy of Dawe’s print in front of him.
While Rowlandson’s drawing lacks the technical skill of Dawes’s earlier engraving, particularly with regards to the latter’s masterful depiction of light and shade, it compensates for this by deploying more humour a far more exaggerated form of caricature. In this version the Connoisseur is depicted as the sort of gouty, wheelchair-bound, old geezer that Rowlandson seems to have delighted in making the butt of so many of his jokes. While the Tired Boy is transformed into a hideous grotesque who’s facial expression seems to have more in common with a terrifying scream than a yawn. The picture which the old man is examining is has also been changed to a portrait of a beautiful young woman removing a mask which is titled “How do you like me now?” This idea of connoisseurship being a respectable front for more base motivations was something Rowlandson would go on to explore more explicitly in his 1799 print Connoisseurs.