Thursday, March 3, 2011

Admiring George Morland's Ass

by Stephen J. Gertz

It's a great, Class-A ass, an ass to applaud, a Blue Ribbon ass, the ass of all asses,  an ass to be proud of, the ass to beat. It's George Morland's ass.

Morland's Ass.

In 1806, journalist, biographer, and historian Francis William Blagdon (1778-1819) published Authentic Memoirs of the late George Morland, comprised of fifteen pages of text accompanying twenty engravings after the work of late-eighteenth century British painter George Morland. It has become well nigh a rumor in its first edition. In 1824, a second (uniform) edition with all the plates hand-colored was issued; is merely scarce.

The book is bottom-heavy with asses.

(Ass mooning the conversationalists).

Of Blagdon and this book, Prideaux notes: "Even better are his Memoirs of George Morland, an admirable volume full of just yet not excessive appreciation, and now extremely scarce, owing to its being frequently broken up for the value of the plates. Of these, only one is in aquatint, the rest are in soft ground etching, mezzotint and stipple, the colour-printed mezzotints, rarely found associated with aquatint in illustration, being specially sought for" (p. 222).

"Blagdon's Memoirs of George Morland is an extremely rare book and I have had great difficulty in tracing copies to compare...In 1824, however, there was a definite uniform edition with 20 plates all colored. The title page is still dated 1806 and the plates still bear their original imprints but the watermark is J. Whatman Turkey Mills 1824" (Tooley).

The Rustic Hovel.

"George Morland (1763–1804), landscape and genre painter... His strict upbringing and enforced study in early childhood may account for his wayward and rebellious character in later life...In 1784, when his apprenticeship expired, Morland set up on his own account and moved out of the family home. Once freed from parental constraints, his life of extravagance, hard drinking, and association with low-life characters commenced. At first he was exploited by an unscrupulous picture dealer in Covent Garden, for whom he produced ‘galanteries’ of an immodest nature...

I Break For Horses.
(Horse and Ostler).
Don't know what the groom is, ahem, doing with his right hand
but the horse isn't happy about it.

"...In 1790 Morland seems to have made a conscious decision to change his subject matter from domestic and moralizing genre scenes, with a strong narrative content, to rustic genre subjects, notable for their conspicuous lack of incident. Humble life in the country became the hallmark of his paintings and was to remain his sole theme...

"Morland's work from 1790 to about 1794 was lively and fresh... His most enduring subjects were of farmyards, cottage scenes, stables, and country alehouses,..His achievement in his best work of the early 1790s was to offer the viewer a relatively unaffected representation of rural life and yet to do so in conformity with the standards of taste of the period that would have found ugliness offensive. His pictures can thus be described as having a ‘picturesque propriety’ that sets them apart from his contemporary landscape and genre painters...

Ass and Pigs.

"Morland's practice as an artist is important in that he was one of the first painters to break away from the traditional arrangements between artists and patrons. He produced his own designs, not relying on commissions, and sold directly to dealers, print publishers, or ‘agents’... Although this practice would have suited his recalcitrant, independent nature and preserved his artistic freedom, it was clearly to his financial detriment, for he had no head for business and was easily exploited. Moreover, his aversion to polite society meant that he missed out on important commissions... Despite his enormous output—probably in the region of 1000 paintings—his life of poverty and debt is evidence that the pictures were usually sold for little, or traded against debts...

An Ass Race.

"The last decade of Morland's career was one of decline, as drink, debt, and poor health took their toll on him...Morland's reputation in his own lifetime was high and based primarily on the large number of prints after his works...Morland's importance as an artist began to be reassessed somewhat in the last decade or two of the twentieth century... he is now regarded as an interesting minor master, much of whose work was innovative at the time in both subject matter and style and who can now be seen as a recognizable influence on both John Constable and David Wilkie" (Oxford DNB).

Extravagant, wayward, dissolute, rebellious. impecunious. Say what you will about George Morland but the man knew how to paint an ass.


BLAGDON, Francis Wiliam. MORLAND, George. Authentic Memoirs of the late George Morland, with remarks on his abilities and progress as an artist; in which are interspersed a variety of anecdotes never before published; together with a Facsimile of his writing, specimens of his hieroglyphical sketches, &s. &c. The whole collected from numerous manuscript communications. London: Printed for Edward Orme… by Barnard and Sultzer, 1806 [i.e. 1824].

Second (uniform) edition. Oblong folio.  Hand-colored engraved portrait frontispiece, [1, titlepage], [1, blank], nineteen hand-colored engravings (including one aquatint) with guards, watermarked J. Whatman Turkey Mill 1820 and 1824, 3-15, [1, blank] pp., including three text engravings (text bound at rear).

The Plates:
1. George Morland. Publ. Jany. 1805 by Edwd.Orme.
2. A Mad Bull (aquatint by R. Dodd). Publ. Nov. 20, 1789 by P. Cornman and Republished 1805 by Edwd. Orme.
3. The Cottage Sty. Sold and published Jany. 1, 1804 by Edwd. Orme
4. Conversation. Published and sold by Edwd. Orme...July, 1, 1804.
5. (Rustic Scene - Two women, two men, & stile). Sold and Published June 4, 1804 by Edwd. Orme.
6. (Washing). Republished by Orme...Jany 1, 1799.
7. (Stable &c.). Sold and Publd. Jany. 1, 1793 by D. Orme. Republished by Orme Jany 1, 1799.
8. Morland's Ass. Published 1804 by Edwd. Orme.
9. Ass & Pigs. Published and Sold by edwd. Orme...Jany 1, 1804.
10. (Water Mill). Sold & Published...Septr. 1802 by Edwd. Orme.
11. (Rustic scene - Cottage and Cart). Sold & Publd. Jany 1, 1793 by D. Orme & Co....
12. (Rustic Bridge &c.). Sold & Published Jany. 1794 by D. Orme & Co...
13. (Horse and Ostler). Republished by Orme...Jany, 1, 1799. Sold and Published May 1, 1793 by D. Orme & Co...
14. (Pony figures in rain). Sold and Published June 4th 1804 by Edwd. Orme...
15. The Rustic Hovel). Sold and Published Jany. 1, 1804 by Edwd. Orme...
16. (Horse drinking). Republished by Orme...Jany. 1, 1799. Sold & Published May 1, 1793 by D. Orme...
17. Alehouse seat). Republished by Orme Jany. 1, 1799. Sold & Published May 1, 1793 by D. Orme...
18. (Two children picking flowers). Sold & Published...Septr. 1802 by Edwd. Orme...
19. (Haymakers by stile). Sold & Published Jany. 1, 1794 by Danl. Orme & Co. Sold & republished by Danl. Orme, Jany. 1, 1799.
20. An Ass Race. Pubd. Novr. 20 1789 by P. Cornman and republished 1805 by Edwd. Orme...

Prideaux, Aquatint Engraving,  p. 221-222. Tooley, English Books with Coloured Plaates 91. Abbey, Life in England, 208.

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