Covent Garden Theatre
Coloured aquatintpublished 1 July 1808
About the work
This 1808 view of the ‘Covent Garden Theatre’ depicts the first theatre on the site of the present day Royal Opera House at Covent Garden (the third on the site). This earliest theatre was established in 1732 by theatre manager John Rich, who shared dramatic rights for London performances with the only other London theatre: Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The first Covent Garden building was designed by architect Edward Shepherd but partially reconstructed by Henry Holland in 1792. This image of the interior was published on 1 July 1808. However, on 20 September that year the building was destroyed by fire. A newspaper reported:
‘About four o’clock on Tuesday morning, this extensive building was discovered to be in flames; and so fierce and rapid was the fire, that no exertion could stop its course. Within less than three hours after its commencement, the whole of the interior of the theatre was destroyed…’
About the artist
Augustus Charles Pugin fled to England in the 1790s, either because of his Royalism or on account of a duel. He seems to have landed in Wales, where he became a friend of the architect John Nash (1752–1835). He worked as a general artist, providing designs for Nash and painting scenery, before moving to London and studying at the Royal Academy Schools. He first exhibited architectural designs at the Academy in 1799 and, from 1807, began to exhibit at the Old Watercolour Society. Pugin worked on several projects for Rudolf Ackermann, including plates for The Microcosm of London and The Abbey Church of Westminster (1811–12). During this period he set up a school of architectural drawing and began to publish his own works. He was the father of A. W. N. Pugin, who designed the interiors of the Houses of Parliament.
Thomas Rowlandson was born in London, the son of a bankrupt wool and silk merchant. He studied at the Royal Academy Schools, making a trip to Paris during his time there, and won the silver medal in 1777. During the next two decades he made several continental tours, visiting France, Italy, Germany and Holland, as well as travelling extensively in England and Wales. He exhibited from 1775 to 1787 and, in 1789, received a legacy from an aunt, which he is said to have gambled away. From 1798, much of his work was for Rudolf Ackermann, most notably his illustrations for the three Tours of Dr Syntax (published 1812, 1820, and 1821) and The Microcosm of London (1808–10). He revisited France in 1814 and Italy in about 1820. Rowland continued to work almost until the end of his life. He is most famous as a caricaturist, but his work also included figure studies, portraits, marine subjects and landscapes.