SINGLETON, Henry ( 1766-1839) engraved by BARTOLOTTI and Charles KNIGHT
British Plenty ... [With:] Scarcity in India
London: circa 1794. A pair of colour printed stipple engravings. [British Plenty]: Engraved by Bartolotti. Printed on laid paper. A lovely impression in good condition. Image size: 20 x 15 3/4 inches. Sheet size: 23 1/2 x 17 1/4 inches. [Scarcity in India]: Engraved and published by Charles Knight. Printed on watermarked 1794 wove Whatman paper. A lovely impression in good condition. Image size: 20 1/4 x 15 7/8 inches. Sheet size: 24 1/8 x 19 1/8 inches.
A stunning pair of "risqué" prints by the celebrated English genre painter Henry Singleton.
Henry Singleton achieved early success painting literary and Biblical subjects, but he also produced many accomplished portraits and genre paintings. He spent the majority of his career in London where he was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy. He exhibited his first painting at the Academy while he was still a student there, and won a gold medal at the tender age of twenty-two. Singleton's beautiful paintings recall the pictures of George Morland, and depict, with insightful subtly, the tender side of English country life. His pretty genre paintings of rural and domestic life were a great source of inspiration for contemporary engravers who reproduced his work with industrious vigor. The popularity of these prints greatly enhanced Singleton's reputation, and made him one of the most celebrated painters of his day.
This intriguing pair of stipples represents a deviation from Singleton's more conservative images. Typically a sentimental painter, Singleton became known for his sweet moralistic genre scenes. In comparison, this amusing pair is openly suggestive if not overtly sexual. If just examining the titles, one would assume that the subject matter was about commerce or perhaps a moralistic declaration regarding poverty in the colonies. When viewed in conjunction with the images, the pair assumes a more risqué connotation.
In "British Plenty", a young man, sporting a delighted expression and eager demeanor, walks with two beautiful girls along the wharf. The fact that the women are most likely courtesans, an assumption supported by their flirtatious behavior and revealing clothing, immediately transforms the meaning of the image. In "Scarcity in India", two young Englishmen offer pretty trinkets to a young Indian girl outside a rural village. The girl responds to the familiar gestures and lascivious glances of the Englishmen with a meek expression and a demure pose. Singleton seems to be suggesting that Britain is wealthy in more ways than simple commerce, and that India's poverty extends to all levels of its society. Although, to a modern eye, Singleton's images are merely suggestive if not slightly amusing, to an eighteenth century audience these images would have been blatantly risqué. It is interesting that Singleton chose to place his scene in India, since he had never actually been there. Like many British artists, he produced paintings with an Indian theme in response to the great public demand for images of the colonies. This public fascination with India obviously extended to the erotic print trade, which sought to capture the latest fashions and most up to date trends.