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
Thomas Rowlandson, caricaturist and draughtsman, attended the Royal Academy Schools. After his studies he worked in watercolours and developed a style influenced by Gainsborough and French Rococo art. From 1784 he received commissions for publications and later gained the patronage of the Prince of Wales. He also produced satirical images, illustrating well-known scandals and characters. Despite gaining a substantial inheritance in 1789, by 1793 he was in poverty. However, his financial worries eased when he received commissions from Ackermann, which led to his involvement with A. C. Pugin in ‘The Microcosm of London’. Rowlandson later produced sketches for the adventures of ‘Dr Syntax’ (1812-21), also published by Ackermann.