Thomas Rowlandson Would Have Been a Minor Shunga Artist
Marijn Kruijff
2 min

Thomas Rowlandson Would Have Been a Minor Shunga Artist

2 min

A feather-bonneted ‘sailor’s wife’ (a port sex worker perhaps at Portsmouth) is waving a vigorous farewell at the window to the heroic fleet that sails off to face Napoleon. She is already astride her next sailor lover, who lies on a bench just our of sight beneath the sill. At the next window another similar couple are in intimate embrace.

thomas rowlandson etching The Farewell

Hand-colored etching and aquatint’ ‘The Farewell‘ (c.1800)

Humor and Fantasy

The earthy and worldly humor about sex, even the fantasy that a woman can take her pleasure independently and be in control, are typical flavors of the explicitly erotic works of Rowlandson, about 120 of which are known. The humor and fantasy are shared to a degree with shunga, as well as the mass-reproductive technique.

thomas rowlandson erotic etching

Hand-colored etching and aquatint’ ‘A woman exposes herself in a tent‘ (c.1800)

the citizen thomas rowlandson

The Rightful Lover Comes Out of the Wings

Shunga Tradition

What is glaringly different between the two traditions, however, is that Rowlandson is just about the only British artist to have regularly designed and published such explicit works. And judged on quantity alone, 120 designs would classify him as quite a minor figure within the shunga tradition.

thomas rowlandson examining the vulva

Hand-colored etching and aquatint ‘Curious old men examining the private parts of the woman lying on the bed‘ (c.1800)

thomas rowlandson etching orgy

Caption ‘With women and wine I defy every care” “For life without them is a volume of aire

Rowlandson’s Erotica

Explicit British prints with this generosity of spirit seem only to have been possible at a particular historical moment. Historian Vic Gatrell has characterized Rowlandson’s erotica of around 1790–1810 as ‘…the most explicit and last visual offshoot of the libertine spirit…their like was never published again; the erotic lost touch with humor thereafter.’

A young man and woman have intercourse in a stable

A young man and woman have intercourse in a stable

urinating woman and copulating sailors

Hand-colored etching and aquatint ‘Two couples have sex in a boat on the beach, while in the background a standing woman urinates‘ (c.1827)

Click HERE for an earlier article on Thomas Rowlandson…..!!

Source: ‘Shunga, Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art‘ by Timothy Clark a.o.

How would you rate Rowlandson’s erotica vs. Japanese shunga? Leave your reaction in the comment box below…!!