When Plebeians rise to Power

Landseer, Thomas (1795 London 1880). The Power of the Uniform. Dressed up with the signs of police powers – coat with broad collar + oversized hat – brandishing the rod and roaring he takes action against the three little beggars on the steps at the church. Two of them already taking to their heels while the third tries to rescue the coin lying besides his cap. With the exception of the latter all as humanly dressed monkeys. Etching. (1827/28.) Inscribed: TL, otherwise as below. 6⅞ × 8⅜ in (17.6 × 21.2 cm).

Rümann, Das Illustrierte Buch des 19. Jahrhunderts, Leipsic 1930, pp. 99 ff.; Nagler, Monogramists, V, 754 (similar) and, Künstlerlexikon, 1; Thieme-Becker XXII, 305. – On especially wide-margined strong paper. – In the white margin really weak foxing. – With the Shakespeare stanza from Measure for Measure:

Thomas Landseer, The Power of the Uniform

“ But man, proud man, dressed in a little brief
Authority plays such fantastic tricks. & &. ”

Fine impression on large paper from the famous set of the “Monkeyana” , one of Landseer’s but few early and thus typical works :

“ That Thomas Landseer may be judged only by these illustrations a little book with woodcuts proves which show next to nothing of his intellect ” .

Worked since 1827 the 25 etchings incl. title were published in numbers and with classical captions till 1828 in three editions: standard edition in quarto, edition on larger paper in large quarto, edition with proofs in large quarto, too. Besides copies on mounted China.

Otherwise qualified by Rümann i. a.:

“ Much more important was Edwin’s brother Thomas Landseer …

… in the ’20s he distinguished himself by a series of 25 plates that were published 1828 under the title of ‘Monkeyana’ (ills. 57).

Technically his etchings are masterly ,

no less admirable the intellectual grasp of the subject. With much humor and sharp observation he transfers the plain life of his time to the monkey’s life. His sarcasm is biting, almost vicious. ”

In regard of the latter judgement, however, Landseer’s contemporary Nagler, Monogramists V, 686, took a more harmless view of :

“ … the habits, costumes, and follies of his time
(Landseer has) caricatured delectably ” .

And Stechow sovereignly sums up :

“ Monkeys always fascinated artists ”

(Pieter Bruegel, Cologne 1977, page 76).

“ The monkey as the animal most similar to man plays an important rôle in art history since antiquity.

As figura diaboli ,

as symbol of sin and the fall of man ,

as fool , as figure of vanity

he appears in most varied context … (A)lso the usual religious reference in the interpretation of the monkey as

man mixed up in his passion for profane things … ”

(Hella Robels, Frans Snyders, Munich 1989, page 43).

Later Thomas Landseer devoted himself largely to the reproduction of the animal depictions by his brother Sir Edwin.

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