Monday, August 13, 2012

James Gillray Turns 255 or 256

One of the most influential draftsmen in the popular tradition, James Gillray (1756–1815) was an immensely influential British caricaturist in Georgian England. Gillray was born today, August 13, in 1756 or 1757. His work falls into two basic categories: social satire and political satire. His etchings were highly sought after; above, A March to the Bank is shown in its most expensive, hand-colored state. The print, issued on August 22, 1787, was contextualized by Wright and Evans in their 1851 edition of Gillray's work:
During the riots occasioned by Lord George Gordon in 1780, serious apprehensions were entertained for the safety of the Bank. Since that period Government has assigned the Bank a military guard, which is stationed every evening in the interior of the buildings, and remains till business is resumed in the morning. The Directors keep a table for the commanding officer. This humorous and very clever print refers to their daily march up the Strand, Fleet Street, and Cheapside. Marching two abreast along these crowded thoroughfares, they jostled from the pavement all who came in their way. The annoyance to the public became so great, that about this time 1787), it was loudly protested against; and the evil was at length mitigated, by an order from head quarters, that they should in future march only in single files, as they do at the present day.
Below, a copy of the etching sans hand-coloring. Prints were sold on various grades of paper and ink to hit graduated price points and potential customers.

Another print, courtesy of the Library of Congress: Monstrous Craws, at a New Coalition Feast, also from 1787. King George, the Queen, and the Prince of Wales, all chowing down.

Alas, Gillray's was a sad end; after his eyesight began to fail he headed downhill quickly. But between them, Gillray and his contemporary/successor Thomas Rowlandson reached a high water mark in the history of caricature and cartooning; they influenced French caricature as well as the development of cartoon drawing vocabularies.

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