Working Women: Images of Female Labor in the Art of Thomas Rowlandson

Dec. 19, 2014Apr. 13, 2015
Huntington Art Gallery, Works on Paper Room

As one of Britain’s premier draftsmen, Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) lent his vast talent to the comic depiction of a wide range of topics, from politics to pornography. His satirical views of Georgian society are among his strongest work, and The Huntington’s collection focuses primarily on this aspect of his oeuvre. Rowlandson’s observations of the follies of the world around him provide us with a view of late 18th and early 19th century England that goes beyond what we see in aristocratic portraits or in the prose of Jane Austen, which portray a world of grand ladies and gentlemen and genteel manners. This display of 11 rarely-exhibited watercolors from the collection focuses on Rowlandson’s depiction of women. His subjects are primarily those who were most visible within the public sphere—street vendors, servants, actresses, and prostitutes as they plied their various trades—with an occasional glance at the foibles of the upper class. Eschewing complex political or philosophical messages, Rowlandson’s images, though humorous, provide a fascinating glimpse into the reality of women’s lives at this time.