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Corporal Cartouch teaching Miss Camp-Love her Manual Exercise by John Collett :The themes of an 18th Century artwork.

Posted on: May 18, 2020

Corporal Cartouch teaching Miss Camp-Love her Manual Exercise by John Collett 1778. This wonderful oil on canvas in our collection was inspired by the comedy play The Camp by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. The two main figures are the fictitious Corporal Cartouch, of the Third Guards (later the Scots), and Miss Camp-love, representing the actress Charlotte Walpole.

The soldier is teaching the young woman manual exercise, or drill, on handling the musket. She is mimicked by a monkey sitting on a music book and holding a flute, while a young drummer boy looks on. There is a plan of the ‘Camp of Winchester’ on the wall behind, as a link to the play.

In the play, Charlotte Walpole plays Nancy who joins the army to find her lover William. In order to blend in, she learns how to drill and the audience was delighted by a scene in which she demonstrates the manual exercise. The artwork depicts the actress being taught these skills for the role. It is indicative of the reputation of the Foot Guards that she is seen learning from a Guard.

The play was written during the early part of the American War of Independence (1775-1783) and was a critique of military culture at the time. Criticism of the British Army’s failure to defeat the uprising, by what many saw as an undisciplined rabble, was increasing. There was a very real threat of invasion by France at the time and a general feeling that the country was not prepared. The play explores the themes of poor upper-class leadership of the army, the plight of the ordinary soldier and his family, and preoccupation with fashion in place of military training. William is a conscript and Nancy’s attempt to seek his release address concerns of conscription and liberty.

Nancy is a breeches role, which was a part in which an actress wears men’s clothing or takes on the role of a man. In this case, the character does so and this type of role was very popular at the time.

The monkey which copies her actions in the painting was also a very popular symbol. They were used to parody society and satirize the subject, in this case, the military.

The play was very successful and the artwork was a response to that. The painting was widely reproduced as an engraving or coloured mezzotint.