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Michael "Angelo" Rooker, 1746–1801
The Chapel of the Greyfriars Monastery, Winchester
between 1790 and 1795
Materials & Techniques:
Watercolor on moderately thick, slightly textured, cream wove paper
Sheet: 9 x 11 1/8 inches (22.9 x 28.3 cm), Contemporary drawn border: 12 1/16 x 14 7/16 inches (30.6 x 36.7 cm)

Signed in gray ink, lower left: "MR"

Inscribed in graphite, lower center: "Chapel of the Grey Friar Monastery Winchester"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
architectural subject | dog (animal) | fence | genre subject | hay | hoes | men | monastery | pitchforks | rakes | resting | ruins | trees
Associated Places:
England | Hampshire | United Kingdom | Winchester | Winchester Cathedral | Winchester Cathedral Priory
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IIIF Manifest:

Michael Rooker began his career as a pupil of Paul Sandby, who dubbed him "Michelangelo," a moniker he retained for the rest of his life. Sandby was being gently ironic, for Rooker's work was hardly Michelangelesque. Instead, Rooker perfected topographical views that conformed to the late eighteenth-century vogue for the picturesque, an aesthetic middle way between the sublime and the beautiful. Here the ruined monastery has the roughness of the sublime but none of its horror and the calm serenity of the beautiful without its cloying regularity.

Gallery label for Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2008-06-09 - 2008-08-17)
Rooker was born with all the advantages a painter could wish for. His father, Edward, was a respected architectural engraver. and Rooker grew up learning the same trade surrounded by London's leading artists. Paul Sandby (cat. nos. 4-6) was a close associate who not only served alongside Edward Rooker on the Society of Artists governing committee, but also collaborated with him on various topographical and historical engravings. The younger Rooker worked alongside Sandby in the 1760s, which is presumably where he acquired his knowledge of watercolor as well as the sobriquet Michael "Angelo," which he retained for the rest of his life.
Rooker seems to have begun regular fall tours of England in 1788 in search of subjects of antiquarian interest suitable for painting. Winchester, the former capital of Saxon England, offered ample rewards to any such tourist. Rooker had made at least one previous visit to Winchester, exhibiting an oil painting of the city's Westgate (Manchester City Art Gallery) with the Royal Academy in 1779. Rooker probably made a return visit after 1788, when he sketched the ruins of the Greyfriars monastery. Franciscan friars, known as the Greyfriars because of their gray habits, had arrived in Winchester in 1237; they built their church and lodgings to the north of the cathedral shortly afterwards. By the time Rooker visited, the complex had been in ruins for more than two centuries and had become the property of Winchester College.
Although watercolors such as this were intended to provide reliable representations, they were also painted through the lens of the picturesque, an aesthetic middle way between Edmund Burke's categories of the sublime and the beautiful. In the 1780s, publications by the Rev. William Gilpin had promoted a taste for the picturesque. In Gilpin's opinion, "[T]he picturesque eye is perhaps most inquisitive after the elegant relics of ancient architecture; the ruined tower, the Gothic arch, the remains of castles and abbeys.... They are consecrated by time; and almost deserve the vencration we pay to the works of nature itself" Rooker's eye is quintessentially picturesque, with its delight in the crumbling building and the interplay between rough and smooth textures. In this watercolor, a pleasing contrast is provided between the neat, white cottages with their clipped hedges, and the irregular, gray walls of the ruined friary set within untamed trees and foliage. The traditional hazel fence to the right was also used by Rooker to highlight the agreeable disparity between the productive land and the uncultivated area alongside. Rooker's technique, while exhibiting the refined influence of Sandy, similarly plays with roughness and variety by blending broad washes with small staccato dots and lines of pigment, a manner the young J. M. W. Turner (cat. nos. 43-49) held in high esteem. Whereas other antiquarian topographers liked to exploit the melancholy of ruins, Rooker's view of the crumbling building betrays a characteristic lack of regret or moralizing content. Instead, the focus is on modern life found flourishing amongst the friary's remains. The foreground harvesters enjoy the shade of an old oak tree before gathering in their bountiful harvest. The fact that these workers seem oblivious to the ruins highlights the social divide that separates them from Rooker and his audience; the picturesque was not an aesthetic for everyone but only for the educated few. As Rooker's laborers pause to rest they are blissfully unaware of their own status as objects of picturesque beauty.

Matthew Hargraves

Hargraves, Matthew, and Scott Wilcox. Great British Watercolors: from the Paul Mellon collection. New Haven: Yale Center for British Art, 2007, p. 36, no. 12

In the last decades of the eighteenth century, the vogue for the Picturesque reshaped the conventions of topographical drawing; new aesthetic and sensory concerns were grafted onto its longstanding informational role. The straightforward presentation of antiquaries by the Bucks was replaced in the watercolors of Thomas Hearne, Michael Rooker, and Edward Dayes by images carefully calculated to enhance sublime or picturesque qualities of the site. In place of the distant "prospects" that were a Buck specialty, these artists took the viewer right into the fashionable precincts of the city or created far-off atmospheric vistas that provided a sense of the grandeur or the metropolis without enumerating its landmarks.

From the late 1780s Michael Rooker undertook a series of autumn sketching tours through England and Wales. The Chapel of the Greyfriars Monastery, Winchester probably derives from one of these tours, although a painting by Rooker of a Winchester scene dated 1779 indicates an earlier visit to the city. Rooker's watercolor style, which downplays the outline and emphasizes textures of stone and tile and foliage through a mosaic of touches of the brush, is quintessentially Picturesque. His inclination to situate ruins like those of the Greyfriars Monastery with a framework of everyday activities, in this case a respite from haymaking imparts an almost cozy familiarity rather than melancholy grandeur to his watercolors or ancient monuments.

Scott Wilcox

Wilcox, Forrester, O'Neil, Sloan. The Line of Beauty: British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century. Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2001. pg. 164 cat. no. 139

Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2008-06-09 - 2008-08-17) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (The State Hermitage Museum, 2007-10-23 - 2008-01-13) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2007-07-11 - 2007-09-30) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

The Line of Beauty : British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century (Yale Center for British Art, 2001-05-19 - 2001-08-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Oil on Water - Oil Sketches by British Watercolorists (Yale Center for British Art, 1986-08-26 - 1986-11-09) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

English Landscape (Paul Mellon Collection) 1630-1850 (Yale Center for British Art, 1977-04-19 - 1977-07-17) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

An exhibition of English drawings and water colors from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, February 18-April 1, 1962, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1962, p. 41, no. 57, NC228 U6 (YCBA) Copy 2 is on Mellon Shelf [YCBA]

John Baskett, English drawings and watercolors, 1550-1850, in the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon , The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 1972, pp. 38-39, no. 51, NC228 B37+ (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Cormack, Oil on water, oil sketches by British watercolorists , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1986, p. 50, fig. 52, ND467 C67 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Sotheby's sale catalogue : Catalogue of fine paintings and drawings of the English school : 30 November 1960, Sotheby's, London, November 30, 1960, p. 21, lot 81, Auction catalogues (YCBA) [YCBA]

Christopher White, English landscape, 1630-1850, drawings, prints & books from the Paul Mellon Collection , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1977, pp. 34-35, no. 51, fig. LXXIV, NC228 W45 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Scott Wilcox, Line of beauty : British drawings and watercolors of the eighteenth century, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2001, p. 168, no. 139, NC228 W53 2001 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Yale Center for British Art, Great British watercolors : from the Paul Mellon Collection, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007, pp. 36-37, no. 12, ND1928 .Y35 2007 (LC)+ Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

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