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.
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.
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.
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.’
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…!!