The Pilgrimage to Canterbury, Thomas Stothard (1755-1834)
Oil on panel, English School, late 18th / early 19th century. Thomas Stothard was born in London and was apprenticed to a draughtsman of silk pattern designs in Spitalfields. When his master died, he attended the Royal Academy in 1778, was elected a Royal Academician in 1794 and, having been taken under the wing of Sir Joshua Reynolds, devoted much of his skill to engravings and illustrations. Stothard worked prodigiously, his family portraits funding much of his art schooling. He admired Rubens and although his paintings are often small in size, they reflect Rubens' colours and composition. This painting shows just one small part of The Pilgrimage to Canterbury. The finished painting (Tate N01163) includes around thirty characters and is almost a metre in length. The engraver and publisher Robert Cromek commissioned this painting from Stothard. He then put it on display and charged visitors a shilling to see it. He also collected subscriptions for the forthcoming print of the painting. William Blake, then a close friend of Stothard, claimed that Cromek had commissioned a painting of the Canterbury Pilgrims from him first, but that Cromek had not liked his design and so took the commission to Stothard. Blake then accused Cromek and, through him, Stothard of copying his long, frieze-like composition. Blake was furious when Stothard's resulting work spring boarded his career and brought about numerous important commissions. It is unlikely that Blake's accusations were well-founded, but the dispute effectively ended Blake and Stothard's friendship.