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Creator:
Thomas Rowlandson, 1756–1827, British
Title:

Checkmate

Date:
undated
Medium:
Watercolor with pen and black ink over graphite on medium, slightly textured, blued white laid paper
Dimensions:
Sheet: 5 1/2 x 7 3/8 inches (14 x 18.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
B1975.4.915
Classification:
Drawings & Watercolors
Collection:
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
chairs | chess | dog (animal) | drinking glass | feather | genre subject | hats | men | military uniform | punch bowl | woman
Access:
View by request in the Study Room [Request]
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Link:
https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:5664
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Fashionable stereotypes were Rowlandson’s stock in trade. In Checkmate he pits a young urban dandy against an aging naval officer in a battle of wits over a game of chess. While the dandy sits in a foppish posture and wears an expression of serious thought, the naval officer—whose fondness for rum and food has taken its physical toll—adopts a confident, manly pose. The appeal of this drawing lies not only in its comic contrast of two stereotypes, but also in the frisson provided by the absence of any clear narrative. The viewer is left to imagine any number of possible scenarios around this tense encounter over a chessboard.

Gallery label for Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2008-06-09 - 2008-08-17)
Fashionable stereotypes were Rowlandson's stock in trade and in Checkmate he pitched a young urban dandy against an aged naval officer in a battle of wits over a game of chess. While the dandy sits in a foppish cross-legged posture and wears an expression of serious thought, the naval officer—whose fondness for rum and food have taken their physical toll—adopts a confident, manly pose. By the end of the eighteenth century, there was a tendency to see the naval man as the embodiment of a bluff John Bull spirit in contrast with the effminate man of fashion. The background figures inject a note of ambiguity to this contest. Are the pair playing for the favors of the woman behind? And what is the role of the third male figure hovering behind her? The tensions seem to rise as the dandy prepares to make the final and decisive move of the game. The appeal of a drawing such as this lay not only in its comic contrast of two stereotypes, but also in the erotic frission provided by the absence of any clear narrative. The viewer is left to imagine any number of possible scenarios around this tense encounter over a chessboard.

Matthew Hargraves

Hargraves, Matthew, and Scott Wilcox. Great British Watercolors: from the Paul Mellon collection. New Haven: Yale Center for British Art, 2008, pp. 59-62, no. 24

Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2008-06-09 - 2008-08-17) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (The State Hermitage Museum, 2007-10-23 - 2008-01-13) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2007-07-11 - 2007-09-30) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Pleasures and Pastimes (Yale Center for British Art, 1990-02-21 - 1990-04-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The Pursuit of Happiness - A View of Life in Georgian England (Yale Center for British Art, 1977-04-19 - 1977-09-18) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

British Art at Yale, Apollo, v.105, no. 182, April 1977, pp. 278-9, fig. 2, N5220 M552 A7 1977 OVERSIZE (YCBA) Published as April 1977 issue of Apollo; all of the articles may also be found in bound Apollo Volume [N1 A54 105:2 +] [YCBA]

J. H. Plumb, The pursuit of happiness : a view of life in Georgian England : an exhibition selected from the Paul Mellon collection, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1977, p. 56, pl. 117, N6766 Y34 1977 (YCBA) [YCBA]

The Cunning Eye of Thomas Rowlandson, Apollo, vol.105, no. 182, April 1977, pp. 278-9, fig. 2, N1 A54 05:2 + (YCBA) Also available: N5220 M552 A7 1977 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Yale Center for British Art, Great British watercolors : from the Paul Mellon Collection, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007, pp. 59-60, 62, no. 24, ND1928 .Y35 2007 (LC)+ Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]


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