A French Family, 1792

after Thomas Rowlandson“Such precious manners and such indecency,” scowl the English.

Displayed here is the perennial contentiousness of French vs English through the eyes of satirist Thomas Rowlandson in 1792. What’s being poked at in this engraving? Fashionable deshabille. The central man is without his breeches, the lady wears a scandalously clingy and popular Chemise a la Reine, and the child below the fiddler is inspecting the curiosities beneath its nightshirt. Beyond the hired musicians, the most fully dressed figure is a dog. One of them wears not only a dress but a hat, and has feigned a delicate paw. The flaw, however, can been seen in the impudently raised tail, peeping out the too short vestment.

Can you readers spot any other bits an actual French family might find objectionable? Do tell! To the delight of his most astute observers, Rowlandson loved to sneak in telling details.

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5 thoughts on “A French Family, 1792

  1. Look at the way the dogs are dressed up to mimic their owners. Even though the ancien regime fell a few years before this drawing was made, it seems that the artist is still poking fun at the absurdities and formalities of court life.

    The family is also depicted as being okay with living in a squalid, dilapidated house. The house is literally falling apart around them and looks rather chaotic. I’m thinking that the drawing is also hinting at the chaotic state of France itself during the Revolution.

    1. Nice socio-political observations! I hadn’t considered the revolutionary context as much but it’s definitely poking fun at the fallen French court.

      1. You’re kinda brilliant! I do think the younger gentleman looks a LOT like Louis XVI (full faced, similar hairstyle, even his dim expression) but I couldn’t decide if the younger lady was supposed to conjure Marie Antoinette, or if the central lady (who wears MA’s popularized chemise gown and feathers) was meant as an unflattering portrayal. Either way, those are exactly the kind of details Rowlandson would put in!

  2. Not really brilliant, just a nerd.

    Seeing as it’s 1792 and our American Revolution was a big thing that made the ancien regime go bankrupt and since some of the French Revolution was based upon the principles of ours, I think this English cartoonist is saying, “See? See? It sucks to be you, France!”

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