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A Bawd on Her Last Legs

Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827)


Pen ink and watercolour on laid paper with the 'Maid of Dort' form of the 'Pro Patria' watermark

9 x 13 inches

'Chris Beetles Summer Show', 2020, No 1

Published (in reverse) as an etching and aquatint by S W Fores, No 3 Piccadilly, London, on 1 October 1792

The present work by Thomas Rowlandson has been considered to exemplify a vein of eighteenth-century imagery in which a sick prostitute is ‘invoked as an object of ridicule, a symbol of vice, a cautionary figure, and much else besides’ (Noelle Gallagher,
Itch, Clap and Pox, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019, page 62). Having said that, it conveys its message through economy, sensitivity and even beauty – confident draughtsmanship combining with a carefully balanced composition.

An obese brothel keeper reclines in an armchair and reveals a sore leg, indicative of an infected varicose ulcer or, perhaps, a sexually transmitted disease and the lifestyle that has led to it. It is scrutinised through spectacles by a lean and elderly doctor, who sits on a stool at her feet. Between them, a pretty young prostitute leans forward to proffer a candle that is lit but guttering, suggestive of the passing of her own time and the ebbing of her mistress’s life.

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