(click image to enlarge)
The English Dance of Death was probably initiated by the publisher, Rudolph Ackermann, who had already had great success in bringing together Thomas Rowlandson and William Combe to work on the project, The Tour of Doctor Syntax in Search of the Picturesque (1812). While Doctor Syntax was a satire on William Gilpin and the particular aesthetic that he promoted, The English Dance of Death was planned
as a satire on English society in general, and based on a long allegorical tradition. Rowlandson’s drawings, accompanied by Combe’s verses, began to appear in monthly parts in 1814, and were published in two volumes in 1815 and 1816.
This drawing is one of two versions of a design produced for but not used in The English Dance of Death. The other version is held in the
collections of the Huntington Library, and published in Robert R Wark’s Rowlandson’s Drawings for The English Dance of Death, San Marino CA: The Huntington Library, 1966, No 82, and the same author’s Drawings by Thomas Rowlandson in the Huntington Collection, San Marino CA: The Huntington Library, 1975, No 338.
The drawing has been owned by two distinguished Rowlandson
collectors, first by Gilbert Davis, and then by Augustus Loring.