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Gillray Rough Draft

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Chris Williams
Dr. Ross
English 4320
22 April 2020
James Gillray: Master of Satire
Gillray’s Caricatures altered the political spectrum and levity of 18th century English
newspapers. Never before had an artist comically captured the imagination of the skeptical
reader, one who did not believe in the heightened infallibility of European monarchs. Here is the
nature of caricature: “This school of exaggerated protraiture sought ‘to grasp the perfect
deformity, and thus reveal the very essence of a personality”. Gillray displayed this deformity by
satirizing politics, war, and current happenings to repel the pristine image given to ruling powers.
To Gillray, this image is a facade that must be brought low in order for authorities to be held
accountable for their decisions. As a precursor to the modern day press, Gillray permanizes the
fallibility of the monarchy in the same way that today’s press permanizes the fallibility of
The Early life of Gillray
Born in 1756 in Chelsea, Gillray was a great candidate to become the quintessential
Englishman, but his father’s radical beliefs may have changed this outlook. He was a member of
the Moravian Brotherhood, a sect of protestantism that harped upon a need to shield children
from the world’s evil influence. As a result, around his fifth year, Gillray was sent to a Moravian
boarding school where he experienced a strict and idealistic world that likely influenced his later
caricaturization of oppressive regimes. This secluded upbringing would have also accounted for
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Gillray’s frequent allusions to biblical ideologies in his works( Sherry). Gillray’s time at the
Moravian brotherhood came to an end in October 1764 when the Moravians decided to dissolve
their schools in the face of financial collapse. Forever altered by the religious influence of the
brotherhood, around his teenage years, Gillray began working as an apprentice for Harry Ashby.
Gillray reportedly compared this part of his life to that of a spider’s saying that he was “busied
spinning lines”(Introduction to Gillray). This tedious work amounted to Gillray's displeasure so
he deserted his apprenticeship and joined a group of strolling players with some of his pupils. He
enjoyed the free roaming nature of this new expenditure, living in barns and enjoying “aimless
theatrical pilgrimage”( Introduction to Gillray). However, eventually Gillray abandoned this
lifestyle and returned to London, likely around the age of 19. Two unattributed satirical works
produced during this time were likely Gillray’s; they bear the image of his early repertoire.
At age 22 Gillray learned how to engrave letters and was granted admittance into the
Royal academy(James Gillray). His first caricature, entitled “Paddy on Horseback” was
published in 1779. This caricature features a man saddled backwards on a bull. Tied around him
is a satchel that features a list of affluent women, the gibe here being that Irish men came to
London to marry into wealth. This caricature was the first of a career that featured nearly
caricatures, but most importantly it was part of a systematic rise of a new form of political satire.
Gillray’s plates started to come in slowly around his early twenties, but Gillray did not give his
full effort to caricature until he turned 30. The Mezzpoint Engraver, William Humphrey
published most of Gillray’s early work, most of it concerning the topics of brothel and
privy(Introduction to Gillray). A huge improvement of Gillray’s work came in the year 1778
after he was welcomed into the Royal Academy. Working under Franceso Bartolozzi
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The Rise of a new Medium: The Caricature
In 1735 the English parliament enacted a copyright act that protected engravings for 14
years. This made it possible for Gillray's predecessors such as Hogarth to receive adequate
compensation for their work; “Hogarth’s Act converted a largely speculative into a major
industry”(Introduction to Gillray). This new industry mainly used copperplate engravings,
limiting the quantity of engravings that could reasonably be sold to the market; a small minority
of Gillray’s work was engraved into wood and lithography, but the vast majority of Gillray’s
work was copper engraved. With such a small number of engravings being sold by artists in the
market, most engravers like Gillray had the editorial freedom to publish the content of their
liking, a freedom that would be taken from later caricaturists who found themselves working
under regulated systematic journalism. M. D. George acknowledges the rise of this free
journalism here:
The caricature ​(using the term in its loosest sense) had superseded the ballad of Fletcher
of Saltoun's day, to some degree it anticipated the news-reel and the illustrated paper.
Instead of appearing in the papers at regular intervals, it was a separate work of art, an
etching, usually coloured, and immediately striking to the eye.In London and Paris the
print-shop windows were popular picture-galleries, each pane filled with a print and
attracting crowds of gazers. English caricatures were exported in great numbers, and were
copied and adapted in other countries. (9)
Gillray’s specific plates were considered classics the moment they were released. His
audience would have been far more literate and wealthy than average so they would have been
capable of paying for his extravagant engravings and they would have understood his intelligent
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humor. In 1806, one of Gillray’s patrons stated that the print shop that featured Gillray’s work
“was the only one in which upper class people with taste and knowledge were to be found”.
Gillray’s portraits made their way all across Europe and even found their way to America.
Gillray owes much of his rise to coincidental improvements in artistic techniques
and the changing opinion of the reading public which began to adopt a negative sentiment
towards authority. Authors like “Swift, Pope, Fielding, Charles Churchill, Junius, and numerous
others” had shifted the hearts of the public towards a more critical attitude for monarchs such as
Napoleon and King George III. Gillray’s plates featured intaglio prints made by forcing damp
sheets of paper into contact with ink-loaded ‘trenches’, etched or engraved into a polished copper
surface (Introduction to Gillray). This practice had originated in the 15th century, “based on a
manual incision of a V-shaped furrow” (Introduction to Gillray).
Gillray’s skillful work on the copper blank canvas made itself known all over Europe and
even in America. His work will always be known for its importance in ringing in the modern
journalist. It is impressive that before the day and age of photo-journalism, voice recordings and
press releases, Gillray is able to paint a craft so in touch with what was happening behind the
private curtain scenes of government.
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Works Cited
History​, vol. 31, no. 113, 1946, pp. 9–25. ​JSTOR​, www.jstor.org/stable/24402580. Accessed 3
Feb. 2020.
Hart, Katherine W. ​James Gillray Prints By The Eighteenth Century Master of Caricature.​ Hood
Museum of Art , 1994.
James Gillray Drawings and Caricatures 1756-1815.​ Shenval Press, 1967.
Pound, Richard John. "Serial Journalism and the Transformation of English Graphic Satire,
1830-36." Order No. 10014980 University of London, University College London (United
Kingdom), 2002. Ann Arbor: ​ProQuest. ​Web. 3 Feb. 2020.
COOPER, JOHN. “5. James Gillray and the French Revolution.” ​RSA Journal​, vol. 137, no.
5398, 1989, pp. 646–651. ​JSTOR​, www.jstor.org/stable/41375006. Accessed 11 Feb. 2020.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “James Gillray.” Encyclopædia Britannica,
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 4 Dec. 2019, ​www.britannica.com/biography/James-Gillray​.