Charles Rowley was a Manchurian councillor, philanthropist, art dealer and founder of the Ancoats Brotherhood.
Rowley was an enlightened man who showed considerable knowledge about world beliefs, philosophies and religions. He was particularly impressed by Indian faiths, one of his good friends Margaret Noble having joined a religious order in India.
Rowley had a great interest in art, and under the pseudonym, Roland Gilderoy, wrote regular art reviews in the 1870s in which he praised the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and Ford Madox Brown. It was with the aim of bringing art and literature to the working classes that he founded the Ancoats Brotherhood in Manchester in the late 1870s. He organised art exhibitions and compiled a number of illustrated and beautifully printed anthologies of English lyrics in an attempt to interest the ordinary working people of Manchester in poetry and art. For twelve years he was a member of the Free Libraries Committee and organised local reading and discussion groups. He drafted in men such as Brown, William Morris and Walter Crane to give lectures on Sunday afternoons, and had Burne-Jones contribute a series of studies to the Brotherhood's yearly pamphlet. W. M. Rossetti praised the establishment of the Brotherhood.
Rowley was friends with a number of artistic and literary figures, including Frederic Shields, Brown and the Rossetti brothers. Rowley's friendship with Shields was particularly long-standing. The two men toured Italy together in 1876. As for the Rossettis, Rowley was known to stay with them on his visits to London. He bought D. G. Rossetti's chalk drawing Silence in 1876 for £210 and when Rossetti was looking for a buyer for his large Dante's Dream it was Rowley who approached the Chairman of Manchester Art Gallery on behalf of the artist. Rowley was also involved in making frames for Rossetti. In 1875 Rowley bought Brown's Cordelia's Portion, and in 1876 he commissioned from the artist Christ and Peter and in 1877 Milton and Cromwell. Brown painted his portrait in 1885. It was through the efforts of Rowley and Shields that Brown gained the commission to paint the walls in the Great Hall of Manchester Town Hall in 1878. During painting Brown stayed with Rowley, who was on the committee supervising the murals.
Rowley was not so sympathetic towards Whistler. He described him as 'a man of much ability' but of a rather 'flippant genius'. Having 'undoubted great force in him', Rowley felt that he lacked 'the patience to develop it, hence his pictures are vague shadowy things utterly incomprehensible to the general gazer.' However, although never desiring to buy 'one of his Nocturnes or Symphonies', Rowley greatly admired Whistler's etchings which he described as 'slight' but 'of rare beauty' (#13134).
Gilderoy, Roland, The Pictures of the Year: Notes on the Academy, the Grosvenor, and other Exhibitions, London, 1877; Gilderoy, R., The Pictures of the Year: Notes on the Academy, the Grosvenor, and other Exhibitions, London, 1878; Rowley, Charles, Fifty Years of Ancoats, Manchester, 1899; Rowley, Charles (ed.), A Treasury for the Young of all Ages, Manchester, 1903; Rowley, C., Drawings by the Late Sir E. Burne-Jones, Manchester, 1905; Rowley, C., Fifty Years of Work without Wages, London, 1911.
Hueffer, Ford M., Ford Madox Brown: A Record of his Life and Work, London, 1896; Rossetti, William Michael, Some Reminiscences, London, 1906; Mills, Ernestine, The Life and Letters of Frederic Shields, London, 1912; Bendiner, Kenneth, The Art of Ford Madox Brown, Pennsylvania State, 1998.