In 1784, Thomas Rowlandson exhibited two watercolors at the Royal Academy, contrasting an Italian family with a French family, each dancing and playing music together in in their homes. Although the Italian family is poorly dressed, living in a bleak home lit only by one open window, they sing an operatic tune with great power and enjoyment. The harpsichord player doesn’t even have a table and chair but plays sitting on the floor. A mother sings while caring for the baby.
In an equally tattered room, the French family has pushed a bed against the wall to make room for dancing. Various pieces of elegant dress are worn over bare legs and torn sleeves. Even the dogs have been dressed up, while the hungry cat climbs into the cupboard looking for food,
Samuel Alken printed and hand colored reproductions of the two scenes, which were sold at his Soho shop as well as William Hinton’s printshop at Sweeting Alley in Cornhill. They must have been popular because in 1792, Samuel Fores had a second edition of the French Family published and sold from his shop, this time printed without aquatint.
[above] Samuel Alken (1756-1815), after a design by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827), An Italian family, 1785. Hand colored etching with aquatint. Graphic Arts Collection GA 2014.00798. Gift of Dickson Q. Brown, Class of 1895.
[below] Samuel Alken (1756-1815), after a design by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827), A French family, 1786. Hand colored etching with aquatint. Graphic Arts Collection GA 2014.00793. Gift of Dickson Q. Brown, Class of 1895.