|Michael Rooker was born in London, the son of the engraver and actor Edward Rooker (1724 - 1774). During the 1760s he worked with his father while studying with, and perhaps assisting, Paul Sandby. By the end of the decade he had come to be known by the humorous nickname Sandby had given him: Michael 'Angelo' Rooker. In 1769 Rooker enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools and was elected Associate Academician the following year, although he never progressed to the rank of Academician. |
Each summer Rooker went on walking tours around parts of Britain, seeking out ruins and historical sites to portray. He regularly exhibited the resulting works at the Royal Academy. He took particular interest in the meticulous depiction of specific buildings, in this case the imposing fourteenth-century gatehouse of Battle Abbey in Sussex.
Rooker exhibited Sussex scenes from 1776 and painted Battle Abbey on several occasions. This version is almost certainly the one that he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1792. It was seen there by the young J. M. W. Turner RA who made two watercolour studies of details from the composition (now in Tate Britain) in which he emulated Rooker's technique for depicting dappled light and the texture of crumbling masonry.