<< YCBA Home Yale Center for British Art Yale Center for British Art << YCBA Home

YCBA Collections Search

Thomas Rowlandson, 1756–1827, British

The Connoisseurs

ca. 1790
Watercolor with pen and red, brown and black ink over graphite on medium, slightly textured, blued white, wove paper, mounted on, medium, moderately textured, blued white, laid paper
Sheet: 9 x 12 inches (22.9 x 30.5 cm) and Mount: 9 1/4 x 12 5/16 inches (23.5 x 31.3 cm)

watermarks: J Whatman. Heawood Pl. 465

Inscribed in black ink, lower center: "The Connoisseurs"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
cane | chair | connoisseur | easel | genre subject | men | paint brushes | painters | painting (visual work) | palette | table
Accessible by request in the Study Room [Request]
Note: The Study Room is open to Yale ID holders by appointment. Please visit the Study Room page on our website for more details.

Like many of his fellow artists, Rowlandson continually mocked the foibles of connoisseurs in a variety of ways over the course of his career. Around the time he made this drawing, the eighteenth-century culture of connoisseurship had received a major boost, as art flowed more freely than ever in the wake of the French Revolution (Bermingham, 1995, p. 503). As Archibald Alison put it, echoing earlier authors, the “fine arts are . . . addressed to the imagination, and the pleasures they afford, are described . . . as the Pleasures of the Imagination” (Alison, 1790, p. 1). In this instance three connoisseurs pay a visit to an artist's studio to judge his latest offering: a historical painting of Susanna and the Elders. While the artist gazes at the ceiling in a pose of studied nonchalance, they study his unfinished canvas. But rather than enjoy the pleasures of the imagination, these connoisseurs are content to stop at the pleasures of the flesh. Like latter-day Elders, they lust over the nude Susanna, just as their forebears had in the apocryphal addition to the Book of Daniel. One viewer seats himself within a few inches of the easel to gawk at her body, his desiccated companion peers through an eyeglass and licks his lips, and a third smirks gleefully from a greater distance. Typically for Rowlandson the humor lies in the incongruous juxtaposition of contrasts: the beauty of Susanna and the ugliness of the connoisseurs; Susann’'s innocence and the connoisseurs’ lust; her youth and their age. The heart of the satire, however, is found in the men's hands, which grasp their walking sticks and eyeglasses with desperate tension. Ironically when it comes to enjoying real women, Rowlandson suggests these impotent old lechers will be forced to confine themselves to the pleasures of the imagination.

Matthew Hargraves

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, cat. no. 66, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

A loan exhibition of English drawings and watercolours from the collection of Mr and Mrs Paul Mellon of Upperville, Virginia, P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London, 1964, cat. no. 26, N5247.M385 L62 (YCBA)

Archibald Alison, Essays on the nature and principles of taste, Dublin, 1790, p. 1, Available online in Orbis

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. 273, no. 66, pl. 66, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Ann Bermingham, The consumption of culture, 1600-1800, Image, object, text , Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group), New York, 1995, p. 503, DA485 C667 1995 (YCBA)

Vic Gatrell, The first bohemians, life and art in London's golden age , Allen Lane, London, 2013, p. 218, pl. 14, NX544.L6 G37 2013 (YCBA)

Kay Dian Kriz, Slavery, sugar, and the culture of refinement: picturing the British West Indies, 1700-1840, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, p. 92, fig. 45, N8214.5.W38 K75 2008 (LC) (YCBA)

Deanna Petherbridge, The primacy of drawing : histories and theories of practice, , Yale University Press, New Haven, 2010, pp. 370-71, pl. 274, NC53 P48 2010 + (YCBA)

Yale University Art Gallery, English drawings and watercolors, from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, April 15 - June 20, 1965 , New Haven, 1965, cat. no. 26, NC228 Y34 (YCBA)

If you have information about this object that may be of assistance please contact us.