London's Lower Orders Depicted with Quiet Dignity By an Artist whose Work Is Compared with Rembrandt's


(London: John Thomas Smith, 1815 [but 1816]). 285 x 190 mm. (11 1/4 x 7 1/2"). [24] leaves of engravings. FIRST EDITION.

Publisher's black cloth, covers with blind-ruled frame and arabesque cornerpieces, gilt lettering on upper cover, smooth spine, remnant of paper label at lower left of front cover. With engraved title page and 23 engraved plates. Remains of a small sticker on upper board near tail of spine. Colas 2756; Lipperheide 1023; Hiler & Hiler, p. 804 (all mentioning the second edition). See also: Houfe, "Dictionary of British Book Illustrators and Caricaturists," p. 458. ◆Corners and tail of spine rather bumped (with the top outer corner of leaves consequently creased), small chip to cloth on spine, light soiling to boards, but still an appealing copy overall, internally clean, with excellent impressions of the plates.

This is an absorbing series of engravings illustrating the less fortunate members of early 19th century London society, by an artist whose work receives high praise: Houfe says it is "reminiscent of Callot and sometimes even of Rembrandt." The etchings mostly portray street folk and anonymous peddlers of trinkets, foods, and other cheap goods, but there are also a few named persons who had achieved some fame in their day, including George Wilson the Pedestrian, a competitive walker who in 1815 attempted to walk 1,000 miles in 20 days. Contrary to what one might expect, the tone of these engravings is not satirical; the artist depicts his subjects with a quiet dignity, and the sketch-like quality of the engravings adds a sense of immediacy to the images, suggesting that the artist drew the initial sketches on the spot and based on real observations. John Thomas Smith (1766-1833) first trained with the sculptor Joseph Nollekens before pursuing a career as a printmaker and draughtsman. Smith was especially known for his depictions of the ancient architecture and topography of London, although he also dabbled in rural scenery (and influenced the young John Constable). And Smith was a talented writer and storyteller. DNB considers his biography of Nollekens (1737-1823, the premier British sculptor of his time) to be "one of the most informative accounts of the London art world at the end of the eighteenth century."

Price: $1,500.00