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British Caricature

Drawing on themes of archetype and folklore, caricatures employed easily recognizable setups that let the viewers in on the joke. British caricature artists were merciless, lampooning both general types and specific personalities. By manipulating recognizable faces and forms into comical distortions, artists employed by England's publishing houses helped the public poke fun at figures from every level of society. Imagination was the key to successful caricatures, and different artists imagined different exaggerations for their subjects. Artists like Thomas Rowlandson infused ordinary situations with ridiculous figures, like Dr. Syntax, in order to criticize popular ideas and trends. Famed satirist James Gillray, in contrast, often inserted well-known personalities into fanciful scenarios, making pointed observations about character flaws or public foibles. Exaggerating features and costumes, they created humorous prints that sold primarily to the educated well-to-do. Though some English publishers exported their wares, caricatures by Gillray, Rowlandson, and others were most popular at home, where viewers could easily identify and laugh at the subjects. For those who could not afford the two-shilling price tag on a colored print, printsellers created colorful window displays, allowing every passer-by to share the joke. These displays were a prominent feature of the London commercial landscape that mirrored the interests and concerns of popular society. The lively prints that came out of them offer modern collectors a fascinating glimpse into eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British culture.

[ Henry Alken | Henry Bunbury | George Cruikshank | Isaac Cruikshank | Isaac Robert Cruikshank | HB (John Doyle) | Robert & Richard Dighton | James Gillray ]
[ Henry & William Heath | Theodore Lane | Lewis Marks | Peter Pasquin | P. Roberts | Thomas Rowlandson | George Woodward | Unattributed ]


Henry Alken (1785-1851)

Henry T. Alken is one of the most renowned and popular of British sporting and genre artists and engravers. He was the son of another engraver, Samuel Alken--known for his topographical as well as sporting scenes--, and father of Samuel Henry Alken, who followed in the steps of his forbearers as an engraver and artist. Alken is famous for his sporting prints (indeed on some of his early plates he used the name 'Ben Tally-Ho') as well the many humorous series he produced in the 1820s.

Popular Songs

While happy....
From Illustrations to Popular Songs. London: Thomas M'Lean, 1822. Octavo. Soft-ground etchings. Original hand color. Octavo. Very good condition.

Illustrations of popular songs of the day, Alken's imaginative vignettes illustrate the songs line by line. Their fine execution and hand-color make them wonderful examples of Alken's work. $125 each

Symptoms of Being Amused

A dose after dinner
From Symptoms of Being Amused. London: Thomas M'Lean, 1822. Octavo. Soft-ground etchings. Original hand color. Very good condition.

A series of caricatures of people in different situations. Each plate has a number of delightful vignettes, showing Alken's wit and skill. $125 each

Fine Arts

A Forcible Effect
From A Touch at the Fine Arts. London: Thomas M'Lean, 1824. Octavo. Soft-ground etchings. Original hand color. Very good condition.

Another series exhibiting Alken's humorous, yet sensitive view of his fellow man. $65 each


From Ideas. London: Thomas M'Lean, 1826-1827. Octavo. Soft-ground etchings. Original hand color. Very good condition.

In this series, Alken combines his expertise in sporting prints and caricature. $175 each


Henry William Bunbury (1756-1811)

Henry William Bunbury, known as the "gentleman draughtsman," was a graduate of Cambridge and equerry to the Duke of York. As one of the most popular caricaturists of his time, Bunbury produced gently satirical illustrations of social life that were used by many of the leading engravers of the day, including Bartolozzi, Rowlandson, Dickinson and Gillray. Because his caricatures were not as caustic as some, he was able to appeal to the most fastidious of connoisseurs, such as Horace Walpole. His illustrations, however, show wit and insight.


George Cruikshank (1792-1878)

As a child, George Cruikshank learned to etch and draw from his father Isaac, a caricaturist who was credited as the first to lampoon Napoleon Bonaparte. At 19, George replaced his father, who was completing James Gillray's final, unfinished work. With this auspicious project, the younger Cruikshank began a working career that would span over 70 years and earn him the title "Gillray's heir." Among his noted works are caricatures of Napoleon's exploits as well as the exaggerated fads and fancies of the English gentry. In addition to his humorous topics, Cruikshank used his art to address concerns about alcohol and its effects on society and the family. Today, art historians view him as the last great master of the etched caricature.

Cruikshank: Flying Artillery
"Flying Artillery, or A Horse Marine, . ___" Credit to "Geo[rge] Cruikshank fect." And "Pubd. By Js. Robins & Co. Ivy Lane R.R. Row." London, 1811-1815. Etching (original hand coloring). 8 x 5 5/8 (image) plus text and borders. Framed to archival specifications. A bright piece.

An example of the early productivity of George Cruikshank (1792-1878) when he was closely imitating James Gillray's style, but before he had such a factory of artists that later included his father and son. From 1811 to 1816, the height of the Napoleonic Wars, this prolific caricaturist produced etched satires for Town Talk and later more for The Meteor. This comic scene capitalized on military terminology about light or horse artillery and illustrates how, indeed, military horses can fly. $225

Life in London

Life in London
From Pierce Egan's Life in London; or, The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, The Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis. London: R. Ackermann, 1813. Aquatints. Octavo. Very good condition.

In these wonderful prints, Jerry Hawthorn and Corinthian Tom are shown in various scenes of Regency London. Not only are these charming examples of the Cruikshanks' work, they also provide an insightful glimpse of 'Life in London.' $65 each.

GoGo to our page of rare British books to see a set of volumes: The Genius of George Cruikshank.


Isaac Cruikshank (1764-1811)

Isaac Cruikshank, Scottish painter and caricaturist, was born in Edinburgh. His sons Isaac Robert and George also became artists, and the latter in particular achieved fame as an illustrator and caricaturist. Cruikshank is known for his social and political satire.

A Magisterial Visit
Attributed to Isaac Cruikshank. "A Magisterial Visit." London: Fores, 1795. 11 7/8 x 8 3/4. Etching. On laid paper with fleur de lis watermark. Hand color. Very good condition. George 8686.

Three British drinkers are alarmed when a magistrate exercises his license to disperse meetings by drinking their punch. The greater implication of the law is under the table where a dog labeled "Pitt" (Prime Minister William Pitt) snatches a bone from a muzzled "John Bull" dog. $1,200

Cruikshank: Young Roscius and his Pappa...with John Bull
Attributed to Isaac Cruikshank. "Young Roscius and his Pappa in company with John Bull." London: S.W. Fores, January 4, 1805. 8 1/8 x 12 5/8. Etching. On laid paper with fleur de lis watermark. Original hand color. Very good condition. George 10458.

John Bull with Master Betty Roscius and his father. They are presented as rivals on the British stage to Mrs. Siddons and J.P. Kemble on the wall. The triple ostrich feathers on Master Betty's chair indicate patronage by the Prince of Wales. $800

Isaac Robert Cruikshank (1789-1856)

Like his brother George, Isaac Robert Cruikshank learned his trade from his father, Isaac. Originally setting himself up as a portrait and miniature painter, he later returned to printmaking, often collaborating with George. In 1830, he left caricature work to focus on book illustration.


HB [John Doyle] (1797-1867)

By writing his initials twice-over, John Doyle manipulated the letters to create the pseudonym signature "HB". Born in Catholic Dublin, HB arrived in London in 1821, after the death of James Gillray. Thomas Rowlandson had aged, as well, and with him the era of biting, pointed caricature in London. As HB began his career, he introduced a gentler sort of satire, making soft jokes calculated to avoid strong offence. Rather than exaggerating physical features and pushing the bawdy laugh, Doyle employed reasonable likenesses with circumstantial humor. Even the subtle, sketchy appearance of his lithography marked a change from the loose, brash lines of colored etchings, a medium that had dominated caricature printing for the previous half-century.

A new style of caricature entered the English world in 1828 with the advent of HB's (John Doyle) Political Sketches. They were a departure from what Dorothy George called "the uninhibited old school to a decorous new one." See her English Political Caricature: II, 218-19. The fine tonal qualities of lithographic drawing replaced the strong and angular etched lines of Gillray and Rowlandson. Most important though, reform was in the air as the Test Act was repealed and the Corn Laws and Catholic emancipation held up new hopes for the growing middle class. The death of George IV necessitated a new parliamentary election in which the Whigs gained and the old Tory leadership was lost with the resignation of Wellington. Doyle's prints signed "HB" were issued regularly from 1829 to 1849 with a tapering off thereafter to a final plate #917 issued in 1851.

References in this list to "George" refer to Mary Dorothy George's Catalogue of Personal and Political Satires in the British Museum. Some citations will be given to the best monograph on the period of King William, which is George M. Trevelyan's The Seven Years of William IV.


Robert Dighton (1752-1814) & Richard Dighton (1795-1880)

Robert Dighton was a painter of portraits and decorative subjects and also an etcher of caricatures. Many of his portraits were made into prints by Carrington Bowles and beginning in the 1790s, he began to draw and etch caricatures, mostly humorous portraits. His son, Richard, followed in Robert's footsteps, producing caricatures in the same style after his father's death in 1814. Robert Dighton achieved some notoriety when he was found to have taken some Rembrandt etchings, without permission, from the British Museum.

Dighton: View from Magdalen Hall, Oxford
Robert Dighton. "A View from Magdalen Hall, Oxford." London: Robert Dighton, June 1808. Etching on wove paper. 10 x 7 (image) plus borders. Hand color. Very good condition. George, Brit. Mus. Catalogue, 11074.

A nice example of Dighton's caricature portrait style. Depicted is Dr. Henry Ford wearing his academic gowns. He matriculated in 1776 and from 1788 to 1813 was a professor of Arabic. $325


James Gillray (1756-1815)

One of the best-known British caricaturists, James Gillray made a name for himself through his witty compositions, capable draftsmanship, and exquisite detail. Through his copious political satires, he set a new standard for the genre, becoming a measure by which his successors were judged. The prints he published through Hannah Humphrey's shop in London have become archetypes for caricaturists and include such famous images as world rulers carving up the globe at dinner.

Every Rogue is a Coward
Attributed to James Gillray. "Every Rogue is a Coward." London: Hannah Humphrey, 6 June 1801. Etching. Hand color. 10 x 14 (neat lines and plate marks). Full margins. Excellent condition.

Two riders on the road to Hounslow when Hounslow Heath was famous as a dangerous area due to highwaymen. The joke here is that each man is a highwayman and so each spontaneously assumes that the other is about to rob him. Being cowardly robbers, they spontaneously surrender to each other. A fine comedy of men, manners and understanding. $750

Gillray: Juge de Paix
James Gillray. "French Habits No. 10. Juge de Paix." London: [H. Humphrey, May 15, 1798-] Bohn ed. 1849. 10 x 7 1/2. Etching. Original hand color. $125

The Magisterial Bruisers
Attributed to James Gillray. "The Magisterial Bruisers." London: W. Humphrey, 1779. 8 x 12 3/4. Etching. Heavy laid paper. Very good condition. George 5616.

A brawl amongst magistrates in the Old Bailey. Samuel Plumbe is the Lord Mayor and William Plomer is his antagonist. A man behind Plomer resembles John Wilkes. $900

Posting in Ireland
James Gillray. "Posting in Ireland." Etching. Ca. 12 x 15. Original printing, London: Hannah Humphrey, 5 April 1805; these from a later strike. Hand color. George 10478. Trimmed to title and laid down on period paper. Overall, very good condition.

Showcasing Gillray's great humor and visual wit, this print plays off English stereotypes of Irish peasants. $650

Gillray: Revolution of 1831
James Gillray. "The Revolution of 1831. As Prophecyed by that learned Astrologer General, Ikey Wether-bridge. to whom this plate is dedicated, (Ex officio) by his Admiring Friend the Publisher -- 'die hard, die nobly, die like demi-Gods!!!' 'It is supposed, if the dog Johnny were permitted he would soon destroy the whole Breed.'" London: S.W. Fores, 1831. 8 1/4 x 12 3/8. Etching. Original hand color. George 16690.

Left to right, William IV protruding from Windsor Castle observes Lord Grey with a broom and a Bul Dof (John Bull) sweeping reform through rat burrows (Borough politics). One rat (Wetherell) has a human head. $850


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