John Bull the Butcher
Date Made/Found: around 1800
Material and Medium: engraving and watercolour on paper
Dimensions: Frame: 455 x 559mm (17 15/16 x 22in.)
Sight size: 275 x 367mm (10 13/16 x 14 7/16in.)
Department: Decorative Art
Accession Number: 2004.1292
This engraving is by the artist Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827) and dates to around 1800. Rowlandson was a celebrated draftsman, book illustrator and caricaturist. His work is characterised by a use of muted colours and flowing lines influenced by French Rococo art. This engraving is called 'John Bull the Butcher'. John Bull is a fictitious character frequently used to personify England or English men in satirical prints of the 1700s and 1800s.
Rowlandson produced his coloured prints by etching the scene onto a copper plate, from which a print could be taken. The colouring could be achieved in two ways. The watercolour could be applied directly onto a print. Alternatively, the watercolour pigment could be applied to the copper plate in order to produce a fully coloured print. Prints were often reproduced in large numbers, known as an edition. When these needed to be hand coloured Rowlandson would produce an original template. An artist would then be employed to apply the colour to the remaining copies using this guide.
This engraving depicts the interior of a butcher's shop. John Bull the butcher is sitting mopping his brow. His wife is busy preparing a hanging carcass. The image is interesting as it gives us an indication of how knives were used in this context.
The butcher has a rope belt tied around his waist, from which hangs a sharpening steel. In his hand he holds a knife with a long pointed blade. His wife is gripping her knife between her teeth as she cleans the carcass.
From medieval times, knives were carried on the person. They were an essential part of everyday life and were often carried in a leather sheath. A cheaper alternative was to tie them to your belt, as in this image. Steels were used from medieval times, though were much shorter than those used today. A steel and set of knives in a large sheath formed portable sets used by hunters or butchers. Another method of sharpening blades was to use a fine grained stone called a hone. These were carried on the person in leather pouches.
This work is part of the Bill Brown Collection. Supported by The Art Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund and the Friends of Sheffield Galleries & Museums Trust.