Thomas Rowlandson: Pleasures and Pursuits in Georgian England
When: April 8 - June 12, 2011
About the Show
With heavy handed humor and low subject matter, the work of Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827) provides an invaluable insight into the workings and mentality of late Georgian society. Rowlandson’s irony-laden look on the age’s pleasures, both public and private, is explored through this exhibition of seventy-two watercolors and prints from the Art Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale Center for British Art, Walpole Library, Beinecke Library, and Vassar College Library, Special Collections.
Organized by the Art Center, Thomas Rowlandson: Pleasures and Pursuits in Georgian England is the first major exhibition in the United States on this artist’s work in twenty years. The last American monographic exhibition on the artist took place in 1990 when Art Services International toured a well-received exhibition curated by John Hayes, director of the National Portrait Gallery in London, to the Frick Collection in New York, the Frick Art Museum in Pittsburgh, and the Baltimore Museum of Art. Since then, scholars have placed new emphasis on the social and political contexts of satirical watercolors, drawings, and prints of the period. They have studied leisure and social life and the crossing of class boundaries, for example. Indeed, a wide range of Rowlandson’s oeuvre is viewed in this exhibition with these issues in mind. The time is right for a reappraisal of his watercolors, drawings, and prints, and this exhibition and its catalogue aim to re-introduce his art to American audiences.
Thomas Rowlandson: Pleasures and Pursuits in Georgian England identifies and examines Rowlandson’s themes on this efflorescence of Georgian social life. Specifically, the themes call attention to his interests in high society and politics, encounters on the street, camaraderie in clubs and taverns, outdoor entertainments and other diversions, musings about art, drama, and dance, and romantic and sexual tangles and attachments. For instance, high society and politics were tightly interwoven in Georgian London, and Rowlandson frequently depicted these political and fashionable intersections as a young man. In the 1780s, leaders of fashion and politics featured prominently in satirical works, and Rowlandson pictured elite icons Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and George, Prince of Wales in political prints, in addition to the watercolors he made of them. In another example, Rowlandson’s club and tavern scenes revel in entertaining episodes of men drinking potent punch and gambling, both passionate pastimes of the period. Ice skating, prize fighting, and making sketching tours in the picturesque countryside also inspired several works on view.
The exhibition and catalogue benefit from the support of the Evelyn Metzger Exhibition Fund and Futhermore, a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund.