This caricature depicts the staircase leading to the Great Room at Somerset House in Pall Mall, which was where the members of the Royal Academy exhibited their paintings. The stairway to the Great Room was steep and long, and undoubtedly tough to negotiate during crowded days.
In Rowlandson's cartoon, the ladies tumble down in a domino effect, revealing much, much more than a neat turn of ankle. I adore the details in this scene: The rakes ready to take their visual fill of the unfortunate situation, while elegant ladies tumble haplessly, limbs akimbo and tender parts exposed. Interestingly, the ladies are wearing stockings but not much more beneath those gauzy muslins. Rowlandson proves Margaret C. Sullivan right and I am happy for it.
(Thomas Rowlandson, The Exhibition Stare Case (c. 1811, hand-colored etching; etching may be by Rowlandson, although the coloring is not).
The Romantic Cosmopolitanism: The 12th Annual NASSR Conference: "Eyes on the Metropole: Seeing London and Beyond", By Sharon M. Twigg and Theresa M. Kelley