This rare, previously unpublished drawing was made by Marcellus Laroon in the 1680s in preparation for the publication of The Cries of London. First advertised in 1687 by the print publisher Pierce Tempest, the plates were engraved by John Savage. Laroon’s Cries were enormously popular throughout the eighteenth century, forming the model for similar series by Paul Sandby and Francis Wheatley.
Laroon was born in the Netherlands, he trained in London with ‘La Zoon’ (perhaps Hendrick Sonnius, Lely's assistant), and with Balthazar Flesshier, a painter of seascapes and portraits. He then became a portrait painter in Yorkshire (where, he told George Vertue, he met Rembrandt at Hull). After returning to London, Laroon joined the Company of Painter–Stainers in 1674. Pierce Tempest, an enterprising print publisher, was originally from Tong in Yorkshire where he may have first known Laroon. From about 1680 he was based in the Strand and maintained lucrative relationships with other Yorkshire based artists, including Francis Place. The idea for a series of prints depicting the ‘Cries’ of London probably came in response to the popularity of Jean-Baptiste Bonnart’s Cris de Paris, published around 1666 in a suite of 36 prints. Tempest’s eventually published 74 prints based on Laroon’s drawings, although the precise chronology of the Cries is complicated.The series begins with the Sow Gelder.
Joseph Addison, writing in The Spectator, divided London’s street hawkers into two classes, vocalists and instrumentalists. The sow gelder blowing the hooked trumpet and five other hawkers are instrumentalists; they include the vendor of singing glasses who plays the horn he sells, the hobby horse crier who sounds a trumpet, and the tinker who strikes his brass kettle with a hammer. As Sean Shesgreen has pointed out, Laroon’s drawing captures a figure familiar from medieval London, but one being gradually made redundant by late seventeenth-century London’s rapid urbanisation. The Sow Gelder, who castrated male pigs and gelded sows, would become a rural curiosity by the following generation. This is true of a number of the professions captured by Laroon, suggesting an antiquarian inflection to Tempest’s project.
Laroon’s wash drawing shows the figure from behind, dressed in a ragged coat. Laroon’s use of rapid, descriptive ink lines suggests that he was working in full knowledge of the engraving process; indeed Savage’s plate follows Laroon’s model closely. This drawing is particularly important because it has been prepared for transfer, the back of the drawing has been covered in chalk and the drawing has been incised. This is a rare sheet, made in preparation for one of the most influential series of prints published in London at the end of the seventeenth century.