Mobile menu
Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827)

An English Review c.1785

RCIN 913720

Your share link is...


A watercolour drawing of a military review. During the 1780s Thomas Rowlandson produced a number of large coloured drawings for exhibition. He had spent the previous few years studying Netherlandish genre pictures of the seventeenth century, and producing pastiches of contemporary artists such as Thomas Gainsborough and John Hamilton Mortimer. The search for a valid modern English style, initiated by Hogarth half a century earlier, had recently been given fresh impetus by Sir Joshua Reynolds in his Royal Academy Discourses (begun in 1769). As modern, lightly comic subjects, An English review and its pair, A French review, can be seen as contributions to this debate. They are the largest of all Rowlandson’s drawings, and as early works have the taut line and compositional boldness that his later drawings lacked. As pointed out by Paulson, the model for Rowlandson’s compositions was Hogarth’s March to Finchley; but whereas Hogarth set a rabble of drunken and lecherous soldiers in the foreground against an orderly review in the distance, Rowlandson’s contrast is simply between military order and civilian chaos. Anti-French satire was a common theme of English caricature throughout the eighteenth century, but there is no such sentiment evident here. In both works the review itself is subsidiary to the tumble of onlookers, and each has Rowlandson’s usual complement of groping, ogling and pilfering - the French crowd is if anything more orderly than the English. The two drawings were shown at the Royal Academy in 1786, already ‘carefully framed for the Royal collection’, and were delivered to the Prince of Wales in September 1788. The watercolour has subsequently suffered from fading. Text adapted from Holbein to Hockney: Drawings from the Royal Collection