Thomas Rowlandson. "Dr. Syntax Made Free of the Cellar." From The Tours of Dr. Syntax....
London: R. Ackermann, 1813. Octavo. 4 1/2 x 7 3/8. Aquatint by T. Rowlandson. Original hand coloring.
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Perhaps Rowlandson's most famous character, Dr. Syntax stands in for the thousands of early nineteenth-century tourists that swarmed the English countryside in search of the picturesque. Obsessed with finding "natural" beauty, these vacationers often found themselves in very artificial situations, inviting the tease of Rowlandson's witty eye. Reversing the creative process, he first drew a series of comic scenes, then commissioned James Combe to devise a narrative. Specifically, Rowlandson and Combe satirized the Reverend William Gilpin's flowery accounts of his picturesque tours, works very familiar to Britain's middle and upper classes. In place of Gilpin, the satirists insert stumbling parson Dr. Syntax into highly detailed landscapes and interiors. Like all good caricature, they comically twist current events and trends to produce visual jokes that transcend period and place.