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9 June 2015

Thomas Stothard, R.A. (1755-1834)

Thomas Stothard, R.A. (1755-1834) was the third English artist, after William Hogarth and Michael Angelo Rooker, to produce illustrations to a published edition of Tristram Shandy. In 1781 Harrison & Co of Paternoster Row printed eight engravings after his designs in volume V of their The Novelist’s Magazine. The originals had been engraved by Charles Grignion, James Walker, James Heath and William Angus, and were reissued by Harrison & Co in 1791 in an edition in which the plates were dated 1781. Each plate has ‘Tristram Shandy’ in a cartouche, but does not have any further caption, so the reader is left to deduce the moment being captured.

The Laurence Sterne Trust has recently acquired the original pencil and grey wash of plate 5 of the series depicting Toby and Trim on the bowling green standing beside the fossé, Toby pointing with his stick while Trim listens intently with his spade shouldered as if a rifle. The sentry box is seen in the background. The illustration measures four and five-eighths of an inch by two and three-quarter inches.

Stothard was a prolific draughtsman, producing 244 illustrations for The Novelist’s Magazine, and the on-line Dictionary of National Biography notes that ‘More than one hundred oil paintings by him were sold at Christies shortly after his death (June 1834), and estimates of his surviving designs vary between 4000 and 10,000.’ That at his death he left £5080 together with a house, furniture and a collection of paintings and prints which was additionally valued at £2482 is testimony to both the scale of and demand for his work.

It is particularly appropriate that the Trust should have acquired one of Stothard’s illustrations to Tristram Shandy. Born in London, at the age of 5 the young Thomas was sent to school in Acomb, York, where, it is recorded, he saw book illustrations by Jacobus Houbraken, which he gazed on ‘till a love of art grew within me’ (DNB, citing A. E. Bray’s Life of Thomas Stothard [1851]). This was in 1760, when Tristram Shandy had just burst onto the literary scene. It is possible that the Houbraken illustrations were after the paintings by Cornelis Troost illustrating De Ontdekte Schijndeugd by David Lingelbach. Troost is known as the Dutch Hogarth, which would provide a neat series of interlinked relationships.

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