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Francis Wheatley, 1747–1801, British

The Rustic Lover

Additional Title(s):

The Rustic Courtship

Watercolor with black ink over graphite on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper
Sheet: 17 x 13 3/4 inches (43.2 x 34.9 cm)

Signed and dated in black ink, lower right: "F. Wheatley delt. 1786"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
apron | barrel | basket | bird | birdcage | bodice | bonnet | box (container) | bricks | buckles | buttons | cat (domestic cat) | chairs | cloth | coat | courtship | courtship | cupboard | distaff | door | genre subject | hat | hinges (fasteners) | interior (space) | laces | leaves | lover | lovers | man | milk | mug | nails | peasants | pot | ribbon | rooms | saucer | scissors | shirt | shoelaces | shoes (footwear) | skirt | spinning wheels | stockings | table | thread | window | woman
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This watercolor was made as a study for the print “The Rustic Lover”, published in 1787. During his time in Dublin, Wheatley began to paint scenes of peasant life, and upon returning to London he concentrated on this genre. Here he uses his signature technique from the 1780s: a pen outline is filled in with washes of softly hued pastel watercolor. “The Rustic Lover” is difficult to locate within debates about the representation of the peasant in eighteenth-century British art. On the one hand, Wheatley seems to suggest that his lower-class figures are morally compromised. The young girl’s dress is slipping off her shoulder as she turns to listen to the seductive words being whispered into her ear. However, the bird (a well-known symbol for female virtue) has not yet escaped from its protective cage. Here, and in other representations of peasants, Wheatley masters a delicate balancing act between lascivious humor and innocence. His female protagonist teeters on the brink of moral failure without falling into debauchery. This tension explains the popularity of images such as “The Rustic Lover”, as well as Wheatley's later series “The Cries of London”.

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 267, no. 54, pl. 54, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Catalogue of the art treasures of the United Kingdom : collected at Manchester in 1857., Bradbury and Evans, London, p. 180, no. 60, Fiche B1244 Fiche.N.2.216 (SML and available online: HathiTrust)

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