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Oil painting - Sir Roger de Coverley and the Gypsies
  • Sir Roger de Coverley and the Gypsies
    Stothard, Thomas RA, born 1755 - died 1834
  • Enlarge image

Sir Roger de Coverley and the Gypsies

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Britain (painted)

  • Date:

    late 18th century-early 19th century (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Stothard, Thomas RA, born 1755 - died 1834 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on panel

  • Credit Line:

    Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Physical description

Oil on panel depicting a meeting between Sir Roger de Coverley and a gypsy woman who appears to be reading his palm. The woman has a sleeping baby on her back.

Place of Origin

Britain (painted)


late 18th century-early 19th century (painted)


Stothard, Thomas RA, born 1755 - died 1834 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on panel


Height: 7 in estimate, Width: 6 in estimate

Object history note

Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857
Extract from Parkinson, Ronald, Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860. Victoria & Albert Museum, HMSO, London, 1990. p.xviii.

John Sheepshanks (1784-1863) was the son of a wealthy cloth manufacturer. He entered the family business, but his early enthusiasms were for gardening and the collecting of Dutch and Flemish prints. He retired from business at the age of 40, by which time he had begun collecting predominantly in the field of modern British art. He told Richard Redgrave RA, then a curator in the South Kensington Museum (later the V&A) of his intention to give his collection to the nation. The gallery built to house the collection was the first permanent structure on the V&A site, and all concerned saw the Sheepshanks Gift as forming the nucleus of a National Gallery of British Art. Sheepshanks commissioned works from contemporary artists, bought from the annual RA summer exhibitions, but also bought paintings by artists working before Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837. The Sheepshanks Gift is the bedrock of the V&A's collection of British oil paintings, and served to encourage many other collectors to make donations and bequests.

Historical significance: Thomas Stothard (1755-1834) was a highly prolific painter, book illustrator and designer. After his father's death in 1770 he began his working life apprenticed to a Huguenot silk weaver. At the completion of his apprenticeship in 1777 he entered the Royal Academy Schools, and there struck up life-long friendships with the sculptor John Flaxman and with William Blake. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1778 until his death in 1834, and from 1778 also began to produce illustrations for various publishers and magazines such as the Ladies' Magazine. He sometimes exhibited the original designs for such illustrations at the Royal Academy exhibitions. In his day he was highly respected as a history painter in oil, but the V&A collections of drawings and watercolours reflect his reputation during the 19th century predominantly as an illustrator, as well as a designer of a multitude of objects such as silver salvers to funerary monuments. As the Dictionary of National Biography notes, Stothard took 'advantage of the opportunities afforded by publishing and the industrial arts, while maintaining a reputation in the more respectable reaches of high art'. For example Stothard exhibited works on a grander scale than was his norm for Bowyer's 'Historic Gallery' (1790-1806). But many of the oils now in the V&A are on a modest scale and are perhaps designs for printed illustrations, rather than 'finished' history paintings. Stothard played a respected part in the art world of his day, and from 1812 until his death at the age of seventy-nine he held the post of librarian of the Royal Academy.

Sir Roger de Coverley was the name of a character from various Spectator stories published around 1711. It is likely that this illustration by Stothard was a sketch for an illustration to the 1803 edition of the Spectator in which FA. 202, Brunetta and Phillis was illustrated. The encounter between Sir Roger de Coverley and the Gypsies is described in The Spectator, no.130, "One, who was older and more sunburnt than the rest, told him that he had a widow in his line of life".

Sir Roger De Coverley was an English squire of Queen Anne's reign, who exemplified the values of an old country gentleman. He was portrayed as likable but ridiculous, rendering his old-fashioned Tory politics harmless; he was "rather beloved than esteemed" (Spectator, no.2). Stothard, in representing the two gentleman in tricorn hats, chose to set the scene at a point in the second half of the 18th century rather than in the first decade. Scenes of Gypsies were current in late 18th and early 19th century literature and paintings, and elicited mixed reactions and feelings. The Spectator however, dating from the early 18th century was in no doubt that they were untrustworthy, even dangerous; Gypsies are referred to as "..infest[ing]" all the countries of Europe. As is hinted at in the painting by Stothard, Sir Roger de Coverley was to discover that Gypsies were not what they seemed, and that picking pockets was "a Kind of Palmistry at which this Race of Vermin are very dexterous" - the figure lower right is possibly examining a purse, although the detail, as in many of Stothard's works, is sketchy and hard to read

Descriptive line

Oil painting entitled 'Sir Roger de Coverley and the Gypsies' by Thomas Stothard. Great Britain, late 18th century, early 19th century.


Oil paint; Panel


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Gypsy; Nomads; Chiromancy; Palmistry




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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