The painter and lithographer, Thomas Leeson Rowbotham, is best remembered for his romantic landscape watercolours inspired by his sketching tours. Early in his career, he was influenced by the work of J M W Turner and Charles Bentley, and praised by the critic, John Ruskin. Not afraid to experiment, he also developed a fascination for light, which he applied to Italian lake and coastal views, comparable to those of Thomas Miles Richardson, both senior and junior.
Thomas Leeson Rowbotham, was born in Dublin on 21 May 1823, the son of the artist, Thomas Leeson Scrase Rowbotham, and grandson of Thomas Rowbotham, who was associated with the Bath-Bristol theatre company. In 1825, the family moved to Bristol, and Scrase Rowbotham worked as a drawing master and topographical artist, providing the antiquarian, George Weare Braikenridge, with over 350 watercolours and drawings of the area. Having lived at several addresses in Bristol, Scrase was sued and committed for debt in 1833.
In about 1835, the Rowbothams moved to London, and Scrase became Professor of Drawing at the Royal Naval School, New Cross, an institution for the sons of impoverished naval officers – with his son becoming a pupil.
Young Thomas showed equal talents in art and music, and for some time considered a career in the latter. However, his father was keen for him to become a professional artist, and he eventually did so.
While he exhibited three ‘drawings in wax, without oil or watercolour’ at the Royal Academy in 1840, at the age of 17, Thomas Leeson Rowbotham turned seriously to art only in 1844, when he undertook a sketching tour of Wales. Similar trips were later made to Scotland, Kent, Ireland, Germany and Normandy. He usually exhibited the results at the New Society of Painters in Water Colours, and would show over 450 works there during his career. He was elected an associate in 1848 and a full member in 1851.
Rowbotham collaborated with his father on The Art of Landscape Painting in Water Colours and also provided illustrations to his father’s The Art of Sketching from Nature, both books being published by Winsor and Newton in 1850. Then, on his father’s retirement, Rowbotham succeeded to his post of drawing master at the Royal Naval School. In 1852, he married Ellen Amelia Jameson.
Rowbotham went on to illustrate a number of other books, and most notably four published by Marcus Ward & Co with chromolithographic plates: English Lake Scenery (1875), Picturesque Scottish Scenery (1875), Views in North Wales (1875) and Views of Wicklow and Killarney (1876).
Always delicate in health, Thomas Leeson Rowbotham died at his home, Percy Lodge, Campden Hill, Kensington, London, on 30 June 1875. Despite his popularity, he left his family destitute, and his wife had to sell his remaining works at Christies, on 21 April 1876, in order to raise funds. Of his eight children, Charles Edmund Rowbotham and Claude Hamilton Rowbotham became professional artists, Charles adding figures to his father’s landscapes.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the V&A.
Further reading: John Ramm, ‘Rowbotham, Thomas Charles Leeson (1823-1875)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 47, pages 990-991