The most tragic story in the annals of caricature is found in the short life of Theodore Lane, a young man who would have been a formidable rival to his friends George Cruikshank and Robert Seymour, if his life had not been cut short at the age of 28. Theodore Lane was born in 1800 at Isleworth, in Middlesex, in the neighborhood of London.
At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to Mr. Barrow, a colourer of prints at Battle Bridge. It was at Barrow’s, perhaps encouraged by his congenial environment, that Lane first took an interest in drawing, and, although his father had been a drawing master at Worcester, he was largely self-taught.
Lane produced six drawings with The Life of an Actor as his subject and approached Pierce Egan, “scribbler of “Life in London,” in the year 1822, between the hours of eight and nine in the morning.” (--Biographical Sketch of the Life of Theodore Lane)
Egan was too busy to write the text to the drawings at that time, but Lane became a protégé of the pugilistic historian, and two years later Pierce Egan’s Life of an Actor was published by M. Arnold of Tavistock-street, Covent-Garden. Lane also contributed woodcuts to Pierce Egan’s Life in London newspaper. Theodore Lane’s short career as a print artist and illustrator was launched.
He produced 13 etchings and 13 woodcuts under the title “A Complete Panorama of the Sporting World,” which earned high praise from the Monthly Critical Gazette. “It is impossible for us to do justice to the spirit of the designs, many of which would not discredit the pen of Hogarth.”
Lane was a sociable man and could be found in the company of actors, sporting men, comic artists, and journalists throughout the metropolis; at the coffee-room at Craven’s Head, at the Kean’s Head, and the “Harp,” all situated in Drury Lane. He could often be seen at the Wrekin-saloon in Broad-Court, Long Acre, searching out subjects that could be turned into comic prints by the likes of McLean (top image) and G. Humphrey of St. James Street.
In 1925, Erroll Sherson had this to say in London’s Lost Theatres of the Nineteenth Century;
“I have mentioned the “Wrekin,” the old theatrical tavern near Drury Lane of which Warner (Mrs. Warner’s husband) was landlord. Blanchard gives many interesting particulars of this haunt of the dramatic and journalistic professions. He described it as standing in the very center of Broad Court, exactly half-way between Bow Street, on the one hand, and Drury Lane on the other, and he speaks of it as the “favourite resort of authors, actors, poets, painters, and penny-a-liners.” Tradition said it had been, in the seventeenth century, the scene of many an adventure between Charles II and Nell Gwynne.”
Theodore Lane was ambitious and turned to the fine arts. He had great success in oil painting, specializing in portraits and humorous subjects from 1818. His name appears as an exhibitor in the Royal Academy catalogues of 1827 and 1828.
His oil paintings were also mainly of comic subjects and included ‘The Enthusiast,’ and ‘The Poet Reading his Manuscript,’ described in John Bull in 1828 as “a perfect gem amongst the trash and rubbish of the Suffolk Street Gallery.” His most successful painting was ‘Disturbed by the Nightmare,’ which was engraved and published after his death.
At the time of his death he had been working on Pierce Egan’s The Show Folks, which was published by M. Arnold in 1830, with the addition of A Biographical Sketch of the Life of Theodore Lane. His illustrations to Pierce Egan’s Anecdotes of the Turf, the Chase, the Ring and the Stage (1825) was said to be ‘drawn from life.’
The young artist who showed so much promise met with an untimely fate; on 21 May 1828 he fell accidentally through a skylight at the Horse Bazaar in Gray’s Inn Lane, striking the pavement. “The back part of his head was smashed to atoms,” said Egan, “and his brains flew about in all directions.” He left behind a wife and two children. His remains were buried at Old St. Pancras Church on the 28 of May 1828.