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Connections: Satirical Times

Today’s post comes from Taylor Shoolery, class of 2012 and Art Center student docent.

Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1756-1827), The Covent Garden Night Mare, 1784, Etching, with stipple, in black ink with watercolor on cream wove paper mounted on thick beige wove paper, Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1756-1827), Money Lenders, 1784, Etching, with stipple, in black ink on pale blue wove paper mounted on thick cream wove paper, Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

SNL: Cheney on TV Open

SNL: Obama Address

Thomas Rowlandson served as a satirical hit man in the world of late 18th century politics. Much like NBC’s television program, Saturday Night Live, Rowlandson mocked for money, paying no heed to political affiliations. Two SNL clips—one of a reunion between President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, and the other of President Barack Obama addressing his accomplishments (or lack thereof) during his time in office so far—are great examples of SNL adopting Rowlandson’s “nothing is sacred” attitude. While each are from radically different time periods, both are often rude, provocative, and hilarious, lampooning political figures of all parties.  During the Westminster general election of 1784, Rowlandson cranked out sketches targeting the Prince of Wales, Charles Fox, and many others. One image in the current exhibition, Pleasures and Pursuits in Georgian England, depicts Fox reclining naked with a demon sitting on his stomach. This image, entitled Covent Garden Night Mare, is an illusion to Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare, which was displayed at the Royal Academy exhibition in the spring of 1782, and would have been familiar to Rowlandson’s audience. This image suggests that Fox is lazy, careless, and a nightmare candidate for office.  However, while Fox was frequently the butt of Rowlandson’s jokes, he was also one of Rowlandson’s patrons. In another drawing, Money Lenders, the Prince of Wales is depicted across a table from two moneylenders, an allusion to his gambling habit.  Rowlandson’s ability to produce humorous material for whichever side was paying him differs from SNL only in that political parties don’t pay NBC for each sketch.  However, NBC does profit from the popularity of their biting political humor. When we take a look at Rowlandson’s prints, it seems that if he lived today, he would make a perfect writer for SNL.

Henry Fuseli, Swiss/British (1741-1825), The Nightmare, Oil on canvas, Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Purchase

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