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'Dr Syntax and his wife making an experiment in pneumatics', print, London, England, 1820

Titled ‘Dr Syntax and his Wife making an experiment in pneumatics’, the scene shows a party experimenting with laughing gas in a parlour filled with anatomical drawings and scientific apparatus. Laughing gas (nitrous oxide) parties were popular in the 1820s and 1830s, before the gas was used as an anaesthetic in dentistry in the mid 1850s and 1860s. The coloured aquatint is from a work entitled 'Dr Syntax in Paris; or a tour in the Search of the Grotesque; being a Humorous delineation of the Pleasures and Miseries of the French metropolis' by William Combe (1742-1823). The illustrations are by Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827), a British artist and caricaturist.

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    Glossary: nitrous oxide

    Nitrogen oxide. A colourless, odourless gas that is used as an anaesthetic and analgesic. High concentrations cause a narcotic effect and may replace oxygen, causing death by asphyxia. It is also used as a food aerosol in the preparation of whipping cream.

    Glossary: print

    Pictorial works produced by transferring images by means of a matrix such as a plate, block, or screen, using any of various printing processes. When emphasizing the individual printed image, use "impressions." Avoid the controversial expression "original prints," except in reference to discussions of the expression's use. If prints are neither "reproductive prints" nor "popular prints," use just "prints."

    Glossary: aquatint

    prints produced where resin or other substance is applied to a plate to make a porous ground, and the plate is then heated and etched, producing a range of tonal value; often combined with line work

    Glossary: anaesthetic

    An agent that causes insensitivity to pain. Applied to either the whole body (general anaesthetic) or a particular area or region (local anaesthetic).