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The wonderful Georgian grotesques of Tim Bobbin – The Lancashire Hogarth

painting of devil and parson holding hymn books. the devil is touching gold coins which are lying next to a small blue bag

Human Passions (The Parson and the Devil) John Collier (1708–1786). Touchstones Rochdale. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service.

Mark Doyle, Art Gallery Curator & Collections Manager at Touchstones Rochdale, on the remarkable John Collier, commonly known as Tim Bobbin or the Lancashire Hogarth

John Collier, known as Tim Bobbin, was born in 1708 in Urmston and lived his adult life just East of Rochdale town centre in Milnrow, where he was a schoolteacher.

A painter, caricaturist and satirical satirist, he was also a dialect poet and writer who styled himself as the Lancashire Hogarth. And like Hogarth, his paintings and prints are comic subversions of what was happening politically and socially at the time.

Collier’s work is biting satire and it is not just isolated to the landed gentry, but also concerned with what was happening with the working classes. It deals with all levels of society.

If I’m honest, I don’t know how to describe the paintings, they’re just very unique. He was self-taught and they’re very individual and certainly very identifiable as being by him. There’s definitely a grotesque element to a lot of them.

painting of two men fighting

Altercation John Collier (1708–1786). Touchstones Rochdale. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service.

painting of several choir members singing

Choir John Collier (1708–1786). Touchstones Rochdale. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service.

painting of man covering bag of money with his hand and man in bright blue coat and wig passing him a pile of letters

Human Passions (Two Figures, a Lord and a Moneylender), John Collier (1708–1786). Touchstones Rochdale. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service.

painting of two men, one wearing a white wig

Human Passions John Collier (1708–1786). Touchstones Rochdale. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service

As far as I’m aware we’ve got the largest body of work by him, certainly in a regional collection, but you would expect that because he was a local lad. As well as the paintings he produced inn signs for the pubs where he would often ply his trade as a caricaturist.

His print portfolio, Human Passions Delineated (1773), combined his verse with his caricatures and it is probably this which lot of people know him for today. They were published in several editions into the Victorian period and we’ve got some of the original paintings and drawings from this series.

When you look at them you will see there’s this strong identification with Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress, and I think Hogarth’s print-making must have been an inspiration. We’ve got a first edition of Bobbin’s portfolio within our local history archive.

Rochdale has a strong radical history with people like the Rochdale Pioneers and Samuel Bamford being part of that story. We’ve got a show coming up about Peterloo this summer, Protest and Peterloo (18 May to 2 November), that tells our part of that story, the march from here and the fact that within the collection we have one of the banners that was at Peterloo.

painting of two drunkards, one leaning back with his eyes closed and the other holding a glass up to his face

Human Passions (Two Drunkards, a Glass, a Bottle and a Pipe), John Collier (1708–1786). Touchstones Rochdale. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service.

painting of three drunkards, one holding a bottle with a cork, one facing him with his arms outstretched and one peering over the shoulders of the first man

Human Passions (Three Drunkards and a Bottle), John Collier (1708–1786). Touchstones Rochdale. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service.

painting of two men, one with short hair and wearing a smock and one with longer hair wearing a dark jacket

Two Faces, John Collier (1708–1786). Touchstones Rochdale. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service.

Painting of man pulling another man's tooth while two men watch

Human Passions (Tooth Pulling), John Collier (1708–1786). Touchstones Rochdale. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service.

From the social history point of view, the Tim Bobbin collection offers a brilliant perspective on the Georgian period and there are lots of different ways you can approach a body of work like this. They are a rich source of commentary, they are important for what they tell us about what was happening then, but there are also parallels with what’s happening now.

The kind of things that Bobbin was focusing on – political ineptitude, corruption, hypocrisy, the condition of the poor and the working classes as well as the gap between the rich and the poor feels very contemporary and relevant today.

There is also a strong community of people with a keen interest in local folk traditions, so Collier is quite a prominent figure for a lot of Lancastrians.

People keep those traditions and characters which are part of the identity of the borough and Lancashire, very much alive and the longer I’ve worked here, the more I’ve realised what an important part of the collection it is.

Painting of jeering man with large nose and hat

Portrait of a Man, John Collier (1708–1786). Touchstones Rochdale. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service.

painting of man with short brown hair with wide smile and big eyes

Portrait of a Man, John Collier (1708–1786). Touchstones Rochdale. Photo credit: Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service.

The big name artists we have in the collection might be considered by some to be our treasures, and on display at the moment we have a piece by Lucien Freud, a Lowry and an Auerbach, but it’s often the stuff that’s not necessarily nationally or internationally recognised as significant within art history that proves to be inspirational for visitors and also for creatives.

Without fail, when we’ve invited artists to come in and explore the collection it’s been the John Collier work and similar local or little-known material that they’ve wanted to look at, rather than the things you might expect. For example, artist Jasleen Kaur is about embark on a commission (a collaboration with UP Projects and funded by HLF, Foyle and others) partly inspired by Collier’s Dictionary of Lancashire dialect.

We like to work in a way which creates contemporary relevance to audiences, and to try and draw parallels and John Collier is very much part of that history.

painting of man with small round glasses in dark coat

‘Tim Bobbin’, John Collier (1708–1786) unknown artist. Touchstones Rochdale

 

Mark Doyle was speaking to Richard Moss.

Protest and Peterloo is at Touchstones Rochdale from May 18 to November 2 2019.

venue

Touchstones Rochdale

Rochdale, Lancashire

The borough's award winning Arts & Heritage Centre offers a museum, four art galleries, heritage gallery, tourist information centre, café and shop with regular events and workshops.

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