Rowlandson, Thomas (rōˈləndsən) [key], 1756–1827, English caricaturist, b. London. He studied at the Royal Academy and in Paris, but his passion for gambling prevented him from producing much until c.1782, when he was obliged to earn a living. As a humorous caricaturist and critical commentator of the social scene, Rowlandson quickly gained celebrity. His drawing Vauxhall Gardens (1784) was a great success, as was his series of drawings The Comforts of Bath that was reproduced in 1789. This was followed by the famous Tour of Dr. Syntax (series in 3 vol., 1812–21), Dance of Death (1814–16), and Dance of Life (1822)—all with text by William Combe. Rowlandson also illustrated Smollett, Goldsmith, Sterne, and Swift. Most of his drawings were first done in ink with a reed pen and given a delicate wash of color. The fluidity of his line is likened to the French rococo, but the spirited humor of his work, sometimes almost coarse, is in the English style. His work is represented in the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum.
See studies by R. Paulson (1972) and J. Hayes (1972).