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Thomas Rowlandson, 1756–1827, British

A Woodcutter's Picnic

Pen and vermillion ink and watercolor over graphite on medium, slightly textured, cream, wove paper on contemporary mount
10 13/16 x 15 1/16 inches (27.5 x 38.3 cm) and 10 1/4 x 14 1/2 inches (26 x 36.8 cm)

watermark: a watermark is partially visible at left behind tree trunk area of drawing.

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
axe | cascade | cask | cups | dog (animal) | drinking | food | landscape | men | picnic area | river | rocks (landforms) | trees | women | wood | woodcutters (loggers) | woods
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IIIF Manifest:

From time to time Rowlandson made landscape drawings, typically in the picturesque mode. In A Woodcutter's Picnic, Rowlandson's vision of the land and rural society is typically bucolic. A group of woodcutters pause from their strenuous work to enjoy a picnic. At the time, commoners had the right to gather wood freely for fuel, and the presence of the foreground axe shows that they have been harvesting the trees, not just gathering fallen wood. All the figures are well fed, implying that they live well and have the time to enjoy a leisurely picnic, not being under compulsion to work. This was becoming the exception by the time Rowlandson was active. A series of Enclosure Acts passed by Parliament from the 1750s on had allowed private landowners to swallow up land previously held in common. Although enclosing increased the profitability of the land, it also denied the commoners their traditional means of subsistence, forcing them to become wage laborers on landowners' newly expanded estates. Ancient rights such as the right to gather wood were increasingly forfeited to the economic interests of local landowners, who enforced their new rights with strict laws against trespassing. Perhaps to underscore the demise of this kind of scene, Rowlandson used vermillion ink rather than his customary black to delineate the woodland, which gives the drawing a kind of idyllic air divorced from the vicissitudes of the here and now.

Matthew Hargraves

Hargraves, Matthew, and Scott Wilcox. Great British Watercolors: from the Paul Mellon collection. New Haven: Yale Center for British Art, 2008, pp. 62-64 , no. 26

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]

Yale Center for British Art, Great British watercolors : from the Paul Mellon Collection, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007, pp. 62-64, no. 26, ND1928 .Y35 2007 (LC)+ Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

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