Media File
Thomas Matthews Rooke
Date: British painter, 1842–1942
Biography: Rooke, who worked primarily in watercolor, received his early training at the Royal College of Art and the Royal Academy Schools. At age 29 he applied for a job at William Morris and Company and was shortly thereafter assigned to assist the painter, Edward Burne-Jones in his studio. Rooke acted as the older artist’s studio assistant until his death. The two developed a close working relationship with Burne-Jones endearingly referring to his assistant as “Little Rooke” or “Rookie.” As their mutual affection developed, Rooke began keeping a record of the daily conversations transacted as they worked side by side. Their discussions reveal as much about Rooke’s gentle, humble and selfless personality as they do of Burne-Jones’ working methods and thoughts.

In 1878 Burne-Jones recommended Rooke to the respected Victorian art critic John Ruskin, writing,”… there is a very high place in Heaven waiting for him and He Doesn't Know It'. Ruskin was looking for artists whom he could send to Italy to capture in paint the great Renaissance monuments, many of which were in poor condition, and in danger of ruin or overzealous restoration. (These watercolors are now in the Ruskin Museum in Sheffield). For the next fifteen years Rooke split his time between meticulously documenting architecture in Italy for Ruskin and assisting Burne Jones in his studio in London.

Despite his numerous responsibilities, Rooke continued to paint and exhibit his own work, at institutions including the Royal Academy, the Old Watercolor Society, the Grosvenor Gallery, and the New Gallery.

At Burne-Jones’ death Rooke gave his notes on their shared conversations to Burne-Jones’ wife, Georgiana, who consulted them in the writing of her Memorials of his life (first published in 1904). Rooke went on painting until the end of his life. He died in his one hundredth year!