Victims of the steep staircase reveal all, says the heading of this satirical print. The steep staircase was located at Somerset House (now the Courtland Institute of Art) in Pall Mall, where members of the Royal Academy exhibited their paintings. Designed in 1776 by Sir William Chambers, who had been commissioned to create a new complex of government buildings with the Royal Academy as its centrepiece, the staircase was very elegant.
And very long. Thomas Rowlandson, the author of this satirical work, believed that the architect was more interested in the beauty of the staircase than in its practical utility. And he was probably right. It certainly mustn’t have been easy to go up and down it when exhibitions were visited by big crowds of people, as it often happened.
Not everyone went to these exhibitions to admire the paintings, though. Some male spectators preferred to ogle the ladies, who exposed their ankles and parts of their legs to walk up the steep staircase. In Rowlandson’s print, they expose so much more, though! The artist imagines the women falling down the stairs in a domino effect, revealing what’s hidden beneath their delicate muslin gowns, while naughty old men look on with pleasure.