The Miseries of Human Life

On the frontispiece to Rowlandson’s Miseries of Human Life (in the case), an old miser is being dragged away by death while his young wife and her lover ransack his fortune. Death is the ultimate misery of life, and so we come full circle in this selection of Rowlandson’s drawings. After Miseries, the artist spent four years working on The Tour of Doctor Syntax, about an academic who wanders the countryside in search of the picturesque. 

As Rowlandson neared the age of sixty, he began work on a new edition of Hans Holbein the Younger’s Dance of Death. Hundreds of prints and drawings have been created based on Holbein’s interpretation of the phrase “Memento mori” (Remember that you must die). Rowlandson was less concerned with the end of life than with creating laugher and enjoyment during life. The artist’s sight declined from 1814 onward, and in 1830 an attack of paralysis put an end to his career. Rowlandson died in 1834, but the laughter he provoked continues.

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