A Girl Singing Ballads By a Paper Lanthorn

Artist: Thomas Watson (British, London 1743–1781 London)

Artist: After Henry Robert Morland (British, London (?) 1716?–1797 London)

Date: 1767–81

Medium: Mezzotint; second state

Dimensions: sheet: 12 3/4 x 9 in. (32.4 x 22.9 cm)

Classification: Prints

Credit Line: Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1953

Accession Number: 53.600.1892


Here, a young woman uses a candle shielded by a paper wrapper to illuminate printed song sheets held in her left hand. Considering the subject—a street vendor advertising bawdy lyrics sold for boisterous communal song in taverns and coffeehouses—the mood is hushed and still. The paper lantern covers the woman's mouth, revealing only a glimpse of lip, and her covered body seems at odds with her profession, which suggests loose virtue. Light and design direct our focus toward one almond-shaped eye above the glowing lantern. These essentials—an eye that sees, a lantern that illuminates text—turn the scene on one level into an allegory of sight.