Edward & Michael “Angelo” Rooker
Rooker was born at Towcester in 1724, and baptised in the parish church on 21
Nov 1724, the son of Michael and Ann Rooker. Michael was a well-to do
gentleman, the son of a hatter, who rose to occupy the position of Coroner for
Northamptonshire in 1756.
Edward, maybe having already shown an aptitude for art, was apprenticed at the age of 13 for the sum of £15 to a master engraver, Henry Roberts, and departed for London. He clearly found life there very much to his taste, making his home there until his death in 1774. He married Elizabeth Coatham in 1746, and they had a son, Michael, born shortly afterwards.
Edward was meanwhile involved with some significant topographical and antiquarian projects as an engraver, and undoubtedly moved in exalted scholastic circles. A founder member of the Society of Artists, he contributed to their exhibitions, and was also, along with his son Michael, responsible for the frontispieces of the Oxford Almanack for the years 1769–75.
Alongside this, Edward was also active in the London theatres, treading the boards for 22 years at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. This was the era that the famous actor, David Garrick was manager. Garrick staged the first pantomime here, “Harlequin’s invasion” during the time Edward was involved with the theatre. Edward was in fact renowned as an agile Harlequin, even up to his death. He died only 6 years after his father, at the age of just 50. He had invited some friends to dinner at his house in Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury on 22 November 1774, but died suddenly.
son, Michael, lived his whole life in London. He started his artistic life young
– barely into his teens, he won a competition with a drawing at the Society of
Arts, in the under 14 class. He later studied under an artist with a strong
sense of humour, Paul Sandby, who added the “Angelo” to his name. His style was
at this point suited to book illustration, but he later moved on to
watercolours – and theatrical scenery painting. He followed his father into the
theatre, but not as an actor. From 1779 until a year or so before his death, he
painted scenery for the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. The
resulting income allowed him to give up much of his work as an engraver – he was
better paid, at £15 10s a week, than the actors! The Thespian Magazine heaped warm praise on him for
his scenery for George Colman’s play, The Mountaineers, and it is
obvious that this was a continuation of previous accolades. During his time at
the Haymarket, a Dreadful Accident occurred in 1794, when “Twenty Persons
unfortunately lost their lives, and a great Number were dreadfully bruised
owing to a great Crowd pressing to see his Majesty, who was that Evening
present at the Performance.”
Michael was one of the first men elected to the newly formed Royal Academy in 1770,and his watercolour technique seems to have been widely admired. Joseph Turner, England’s greatest painter, learned a “colour scaling” technique by copying one of the towers of Rooker’s “Gatehouse at Battle Abbey”, and bought more than a dozen of Rooker’s paintings following his death in 1801.
Michael died unmarried on 3 Mar 1801 at his rooms at 23 Dean Street, Soho, having latterly suffered from depression following the loss of his job at the theatre. His paintings can be found in several galleries, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.
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