The Boisterous Erotic Drawings of the Hedonistic Thomas Rowlandson
Marijn Kruijff
8 min

The Boisterous Erotic Drawings of the Hedonistic Thomas Rowlandson

8 min

A notorious gambler, a big drinker, blatant, boisterous, laughing – all hallmarks that apply to Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827). The hedonistic tendencies of this great British caricaturist are also the ingredients of his extensive body of work.

Thomas Rowlandson, pencil sketch by George Henry Harlow

Fig.1. Pencil sketch of ‘Thomas Rowlandson‘ (1814) by George Henry Harlow

Financial Disaster

Rowlandson had a troubled youth, his mother died when he was still a child and his father was a doomed investor in trading supplies, frequently on the edge of or into financial disaster. For this reason he spent his early life on the streets where he witnessed public hangings, bull-baiting, cock fights, dog fights, and fist fighting commoners and gentlemen.

Beer and Gin

This is where he learned to drink beer and gin but also got introduced to some of the graceful and enchanting pleasures of the public gardens, and the refinement of horse racing at Ascot.

thomas rowlandson: erotic drawing

Fig.2. ‘A man and woman perform on a stage in public. The man balances silverware on his erected member and the woman lifts her dress. A little devil provides musical accompaniment.

Excellent Technician

Although Rowlandson was a very prosperous artist, an excellent technician and a master of drawing, his work was not always of the highest standards. This could have something to do with his somewhat decadent lifestyle (with vast quantities of strong drink and enormous meals) or that he had to pay urgent bills.

thomas rowlandson: erotic drawing with horny sailors

Fig.3. ‘A group of sailors make love to some nymphs in a sea cave. One of them is trying to chase away a merman with a giant erection.’


In his artistic life, the prolific Rowlandson produced illustrations for novels, joke books, topographical works, caricatures of prominent figures such as William Pitt the Younger and Napoleon Bonaparte, and erotica. His erotic drawings occupy a key position in his entire work.

thomas rowlandson: erotic drawing with angry old man with knife

Fig.4. ‘A ferocious old man holding a candlestick and a dagger is about to stab the young man making love to his lover. Is she the daughter of the grumpy old man?

Lust for Life

But when Rowlandson was at his best his drawings had an immediacy, that breath a robust and fun-inspired lust for life. The English art historian Adolph Paul Oppé (1878-1957) described him as follows:

“He had the eyes to see and the hands to represent, had he so wished; but he had himself neither the emotion nor the sympathy with emotion to allow his figures to produce it by quiet means. He could sometimes raise a laugh without forcing his characters into a grimace, but he had always to make them yell if his representations were to excite horror. All this is what makes him so good, at times so consummate a draughtsman.”

thomas rowlandson: erotic drawing with Susanna and the Elders

Fig.5. Hand-colored engraving ‘Susanna and the Elders

Erotic Expressions

As you have come to expect from us, our focus will be on his erotic expressions in the remaining of the article. Below you can find images from the book ‘The Forbidden Erotica of Thomas Rowlandson 1756-1827‘ by Kurt von Meier…

thomas rowlandson: erotic drawing with A man catches his wife who is having sex with a jester

Fig.6. ‘A man catches his wife who is having sex with a jester. The harlequin is about to hit him with a club. The brass kettle underneath the couple displays a nude couple sitting on the phallus-shaped handles.’

thomas rowlandson: erotic drawing with a showgirl serving two quarreling old men at the same time

Fig.7. ‘A showgirl serves two quarreling old men at the same time.’ (Source:

thomas rowlandson: erotic drawing with a white woman is sitting on the lap of a black soldier while churning milk

Fig.8. ‘The Dairy Maids Delight’ (c.1800).  A white woman is sitting on the lap of a black soldier while churning milk.’

thomas rowlandson: erotic drawing with Catherine the Great

Fig.9. ‘The empress of Russia, Catherine the Great uses her own unique method of reviewing her troop of Hussars, whom she employed as bodyguards. One of them in the background has a toilet break.’

thomas rowlandson: erotic drawing with three hookers and a shy male client

Fig.10. ‘Three courtesans amuse themselves with a shy client

Thomas Rowlandson drawings: young female sporting a feathered hat straddling a sailor lying on a bench with another intimate couple behind them

Fig.11. ‘A young female sporting a feathered hat makes love to a sailor lying on a bench. She is leaning forward while waving to a departing ship through a window. Another couple behind them by a window are also engaged in the act of lovemaking. In the foreground to left, a large dog and table with a tankard and glass; above, a caged bird‘ (Source: British Museum)

Thomas Rowlandson:

Fig.12. Thomas Rowlandson’s “Leda and the Swan” after Michelangelo Buonarroti (Source: Society6)

thomas rowlandson: erotic drawing with a man, three women, a horse and a dog urinate on a dirt road

Fig.13. ‘A man, three women, a horse and a dog urinate on a dirt road.’

Thomas rowlandson: French dance group

Fig.14. ‘A French dance group‘ (late 18th century)

thomas rowlandson: erotic drawing with El columpio (In the Swing)

Fig.14. ‘El columpio (In the Swing)‘ (18th century)

thomas rowlandson harem

Fig.15. ‘Man with harem of five women’

aroused man with turban watching a wall of women

Fig.16. ‘Aroused man with turban watching the women he wished for by means of a magic lamp

elderly male with young women Rowlandson

Fig.17. ‘Elderly male with two young voluptuous women

ruddy hunter with lover and dogs

Fig.18. ‘A hunter with red hair is having fun with his lover in the kitchen while his dogs feast on the food

Drunken Lovers by Thomas Rowlandson

Fig.19. ‘Drunken Lovers‘ (1798)

thomas rowlandson elderly males looking at nude painting

Fig.20. ‘The Connoisseurs‘ (1799)

imprisoned monk making love to a young woman to the bars

Fig.21. ‘Nude preacher making love to a nun through the bars

thomas rowlandson mummy case Egyptian

Fig.22. ‘In a classical antiques store, a young female embraces an army officer, who draws her into a sarcophagus. The elderly store owner inspects a mummy cases using a monocle. On the floor an open book reads: “Loves of the Gods, embell’d with Cuts‘ (c.1811)

The Covent Garden Night Mare Rowlandson

Fig.23. ‘The Covent Garden Night‘ (April 1784)

This satirical etching (Fig.23) is a parody of ‘The Nightmare‘ (1781) by Fuseli. In Rowlandson’s adaptation the woman is replaced by the politician Charles James Fox, who is lying nude, prone on a low bed. One arm is hanging to the floor while the other is above his head. On his breast sits a demon, while a horse with wide-open eyeballs puts its head through draped curtains. The horse, the demon, and the general arrangement are closely copied from Fuseli, in reverse; but the burly nudity of Fox is in complete contrast with his elegant female in pseudo-classical draperies. In Fuseli’s picture is a circular table of classical shape on which are toilet bottles, &c.; on the smaller table beside Fox are a dice-box and dice. [Source: British Museum]

monk and voluptuous girl Rowlandson

Fig.24. ‘Monk and voluptuous young woman‘ (c.1800)

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For an extensive description on the work and life of Thomas Rowlandson I highly recommend Kurt von Meier’s site…!

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