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.
more like this
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mark Doyle was speaking to Richard Moss.
Protest and Peterloo is at Touchstones Rochdale from May 18 to November 2 2019.
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.