This website is part of The New York Public Library's Online Exhibition Archive. For current classes, programs, and exhibitions, please visit

James Gillray

Checklist Part 7

Published by Hannah Humphrey: September 24, 1808
Etching and aquatint with engraving, hand-colored

This print was inspired by the news of Sir Arthur Wellesley’s victory over French forces under Junot at Vimeiro in Portugal (August 21, 1808). Although claims of Napoleon’s imminent doom, bolstered by the Spanish resistance, were premature, victories at Baylén and Vimeiro, among others, proved that the French were not unbeatable. Gillray ironically portrays Napoleon as Christian, the protagonist of John Bunyan’s anti-Catholic tract The Pilgrim’s Progress. The beleaguered Emperor faces a frontal attack from Death on a
Spanish mule, a Portuguese wolf, a Sicilian terrier, and the British lion, while his Russian ally, portrayed as a bear, seems restless. On the left, Napoleon’s brother, King Joseph of Spain, only his crown and his hands visible, drowns in the Ditch of Styx. An Austrian eagle swoops down from the sky, while out of the murky ditch in the foreground hop, slither, and crawl Dutch spitting frogs, an American rattlesnake, and a “Rhenish Confederation of Starved Rats.” However, by 1810, Napoleon had reached the height of his fortunes. Only with the disastrous Russian campaign in 1812 did the tide of the war irrevocably turn. Gillray never saw the final defeat of “Little Boney.” Insane by the end of 1810, Gillray died on June 1, 1815, at age 58. Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo on June 18 and abdicated on June 22, 1815.

Published by Hannah Humphrey: June 20, 1789
Etching and aquatint with engraving, hand-colored

For much of the eighteenth century, English patricians collected Old Master paintings by European artists, virtually ignoring their own native painters. To address this slight and to create a school of English history painting, John Boydell, printseller and engraver, undertook a campaign to commission British artists to paint works on Shakespearean themes. The project was to be funded by the sale of prints engraved after those paintings, and ultimately assembled in an illustrated edition of Shakespeare. The first group of thirty-four paintings by eighteen artists went on view at Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery in May 1789; the first one hundred engravings were issued in a set of nine volumes in 1802. Unfortunately, war with France ended the export market for the Shakespeare engravings and led to Boydell’s ruin.

Gillray was not invited to engrave any of the commissioned paintings, and he exacted his revenge in this print. Alderman Boydell is seen kneeling before an altar where copies of Shakespeare’s plays are consumed by fire, fanned by a fool; within the rising smoke, which obscures a statue of Shakespeare, are figures from paintings by Reynolds, West, Fuseli, Northcote, Barry, and Opie, commissioned by Boydell. Gillray implies that Boydell was motivated purely by Avarice, here a strange gnome who, perched on a bound volume of subscribers’ names, clutches two moneybags. Vanity, blowing a bubble of Immortality, perches on Avarice’s shoulder. Gillray also takes a swipe at the Academy by including, in the left foreground, a little boy, palette and brushes in hand, who prevents a second child, with an engraver’s burin, from entering the hallowed circle of the Royal Academy (the Greek words within, which translate as “Let no stranger to the Muses enter,” were inscribed above the Academy’s Great Exhibition Room at Somerset House). Engravers, considered to be mere copyists, did not qualify for full membership in the Academy. Gillray’s print was apparently very popular with Boydell’s artists, who “could neither eat, drink or sleep til they had procured this print.” Draper Hill notes that colored impressions of Shakespeare-Sacrificed were not issued until 1800.

TITIANIUS REDIVIVUS; – or – The Seven-Wise-Men consulting the new Venetian Oracle, - a Scene in ye Academic Grove, No. 1
Published by Hannah Humphrey: November 2, 1797
Etching and aquatint with engraving, hand-colored

Gillray takes on the Royal Academy in this exposé of a ruse perpetrated on certain gullible members of the Academy by a young woman, Mary Anne Provis, and her father, who purported to have learned the secret of Titian’s coloring from an early Venetian manual in their possession. They may have given this recipe (the “Venetian secret”) gratis to Benjamin West, President of the Academy, but a consortium of artists, here seated in a row, punctuated by speech bubbles and picture frames, paid 10 guineas apiece for that information (among them are Farington, Westall, Stothard, Smirke, Opie, and Hoppner). Other artists, whose names appear on the portfolios on the far left (including Bartolozzi, Fuseli, Paul Sandby, J.M.W. Turner, and Richard Cosway) thought the formula was a hoax. Their portfolios provide a target for a urinating monkey. Miss Provis herself appears atop a rainbow, painting a “portrait” of Titian, her train supported by the Graces. In the far right foreground, Benjamin West, seemingly in collusion with John Boydell, in the center, sneaks away with Thomas Macklin, publisher of several of Gillray’s earliest plates, who planned a gallery dedicated to biblical illustrations and British poets, similar to the Shakespeare Gallery. The ghost of Sir Joshua Reynolds rises up from the stone floor. In the background, the Somerset House façade of the Royal Academy is cracking, perhaps in response to the poor showing made by “Venetian” pictures in the 1797 Academy exhibition (none in the “Venetian manner” were submitted in 1798). As Richard Godfrey has noted, Gillray probably inscribed this satire “Scene in ye Academic Grove, No. 1” to stir up members of the Royal Academy (in fact, there were no additional prints).

The Charm of Virtu – or- A Cognoscenti Discovering the Beauties of an Antique Terminus
Pen and ink, 1794

Gillray’s portrait of Richard Payne Knight, a collector and “self-appointed arbiter of taste,” was never translated into a print. Richard Godfrey describes Knight in this drawing as holding an “‘Antique Terminus’ his thumb buttressing the figure’s erect member, which he observes with enthusiasm through a magnifying glass.” Godfrey suggests that the drawing was prompted by an attack on Knight’s essay Discourse on the Worship of Priapus.

Diana Donald notes that Payne Knight wrote some unflattering stanzas about caricaturists, whom he grouped with “satirists and anonymous libelers and critics,”

Like maggots hatch’d in summer’s moontide hour,
The filth, which gives them being, they devour …
Crawl out like bugs, conceal’d in shades of night,
Unknown to all, but when they stink or bite …
Thus Pindars, Pasquins, sketchers and reviewers,
Still rise in shops, to set in common sewers.

A COGNOCENTI contemplating ye Beauties of ye Antique.
Published by Hannah Humphrey: February 11, 1801
Etching with roulette, hand-colored

Gillray shows connoisseur, archaeologist, and diplomat Sir William Hamilton surrounded by works of art that refer to the well-known affair between his wife, Lady Emma Hamilton, and the naval hero Horatio Nelson. Hamilton studies a damaged bust of Lais, the beautiful mistress of the classical philosopher Aristippus of Cyrene, which here represents Lady Hamilton. Framed pictures on the wall reinforce the theme of adultery. Lady Hamilton as Cleopatra offers a glass of gin to an adjacent picture of Marc Antony, who resembles Nelson. Hamilton as the Roman emperor Claudius, who was betrayed by his wife, is framed under a cuckold’s antlers. A picture of an erupting volcano refers to Hamilton’s research on earthquakes and volcanoes, which he published in several treatises between 1772 and 1783, including Observations on Mount Vesuvius.

A Peep at Christies; – or – Tally-ho, & his Nimeney-pimmeney, taking the Morning Lounge.
Published by Hannah Humphrey: September 24, 1796
Etching and aquatint, hand-colored

James Christie, who conducted his first sale on December 5, 1766, was a friend to such celebrated artists as Gainsborough and Reynolds, and his auction house was a gathering place for fashionable London society. Gillray here shows Lord Derby with the actress Elizabeth Farren, studying paintings on view in the exhibition rooms at Christie’s. In Gillray’s title, “Tally-ho” refers to Lord Derby’s reputation as a great hunter (also reflected in the painting on the wall, “The Death”), and “Nimeney-pimmeney” to Miss Farren’s successful portrayal of Nimeney-pimmeney in General Burgoyne’s The Heiress, a work dedicated to Lord Derby.

Published by Hannah Humphrey: May 3, 1797
Etching and aquatint

Though the relationship between Lord Derby and the actress Elizabeth Ferren began as early as 1781, it was said that it remained platonic until Lord Derby’s estranged wife died on March 14, 1797, after a long illness. Within three weeks of the first Lady Derby’s passing, Miss Farren gave up the stage, and on May 1 she became the new Lady Derby. Gillray celebrates the wedding in this parody of the famous cameo known as the Marlborough Gem, now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The artist emphasizes the height disparity between husband and wife, and bestows a bonnet rouge on Lord Derby for his Republican sympathies.

MAECENAS, in pursuit of the Fine Arts; – Scene, Pall Mall; a Frosty Morning.
Published by Hannah Humphrey, May 9, 1808
Etching, hand-colored

Gillray depicts the Marquis of Stafford (later the 1st Duke of Sutherland), a collector and patron of the arts (his collection of Titians, Raphaels, and Poussins is now on loan to the National Gallery of Scotland), as he approaches the exhibition rooms at Christie’s. Gillray suggests that dealers and auction houses trade in superlatives and hyperbole as much as art; the catalogue on display boasts that the current exhibition features no fewer than 800 “Capital Pictures.” Stafford, walking with a comical gait, was off to view art and enjoy his “morning lounge.”

Christie’s was located from 1770 on Pall Mall, near the British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom. The British Institution, founded in 1805 with royal approval, offered a venue for the work of British artists to be exhibited side-by-side with Old Master paintings borrowed from country-house collections.

CONNOISSEURS examining a collection of GEORGE MORLAND’S.
Published by Hannah Humphrey: November 16, 1807
Etching and aquatint with engraving, hand-colored

Gillray ridicules the popularity of George Morland’s sentimental paintings of rustic life, and the pomposity of connoisseurship. Several self-important critics study Gillray’s burlesques of Morland’s potboilers, while Mr. Mortimer, a picture dealer and restorer, spits on a painting of a pig to clean it. The connoisseur on the far left is probably Captain Baillie, the collector and engraver who reprinted Rembrandt’s “Hundred Guilder Print,” and then proceeded to cut the plate into four pieces and print from the fragments.

DILETTANTI-THEATRICALS; – or – a Peep at the Green Room. – Vide. Pic-Nic-Orgies.
Published by Hannah Humphrey: February 18, 1803
Etching and aquatint with engraving, hand-colored

The Pic-Nic Society, founded in 1802 by Lady Buckinghamshire (the former Mrs. Hobart) and Lt. Col. Henry Francis Greville, was an association of amateur thespians, who gathered for pot-luck suppers and “theatricals” – farces, pantomimes, masquerades. Gillray shows the cast in the green room preparing for their roles, for which, in most cases, they are ludicrously unsuitable. Lady Buckinghamshire dominates the center as she liberally applies beauty marks for her role as the jealous wife in The Rival Queens, or The Death of Alexander the Great. Her immense girth contrasts with tiny Lord Mount-Edgecumbe, who plays Alexander. In the foreground, the elegant Lady Salisbury, her pose reminiscent of the partially dressed woman in the tavern scene from Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress, shows off a shapely leg as she readies for the part of “Squire Groom.” On the right, playwright and fop Lumley Skeffington prances with Lord Kirkcudbright, and behind them, the Prince of Wales dances with Mrs. Fitzherbert and Lady Jersey, two of his mistresses. Gillray riddles his satire with double-entendres, as Diana Donald points out, reinforcing his central theme of the Pic-Nics as offering “unbounded sexual license.”

“Blowing up the PIC NIC’S; – or – Harlequin Quixotte attacking the Puppets. Vide Tottenham Street Pantomine
Published by Hannah Humphrey: April 2, 1802
Etching and aquatint with engraving, hand-colored

Although the productions of the Pic-Nic Society were unwelcome competition to professional actors and managers of licensed theaters (diverting the support of their important patrons, the aristocracy), these essentially harmless theatricals were also a rallying point for Tory Evangelicals and the press, who launched relentless and virulent attacks against what was perceived as upper-class decadence. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Whig politician, orator, and proprietor of the Drury Lane Theatre, charged the Pic-Nics with “licentious and immoral behavior,” while others were appalled by “orgies” led by “the unblushing matrons of fashion.” Still other critics railed against the extravagance of the productions, particularly their displays of lavish costumes and jewelry.

Gillray joined in this campaign to present the aristocracy as unregenerate and immoral. Here, Sheridan leads an attack on a performance of the Pic-Nics, and waves a large feathered pen, inscribed with the names of newspapers in which his diatribes against the Pic-Nics were published. He is reinforced by Charles Kemble in his role as Hamlet, the hefty celebrated singer Mrs. Billington, and the actress Mrs. Sarah Siddons, probably as Lady Macbeth. The ghost of the great English actor David Garrick rises up from the floorboards.

The Theatrical BUBBLE; – being a new specimen of the astonishing Powers of the great Politico-Punchinello, in the Art of Dramatic-Puffing –
Published by Hannah Humphrey: January 7, 1805
Etching and aquatint with engraving, hand-colored

Gillray ridicules a contemporary fashion for juvenile performers. A puffed-up Sheridan as Punch blows “theatrical” bubbles, the largest containing the figure of William Henry Betty, the Young Roscius, or Master Betty, whose youthful theatrical successes were a financial salvation for Sheridan at his Drury Lane Theatre. A celebrity, he was patronized by both the Prince and George III, who introduced him to the Queen. Here he is cheered by an audience, which includes Fox (on the right), standing behind the Duke of Clarence with his actress-mistress Dorothy Jordan. Gillray took umbrage with Master Betty’s fans, who were so numerous that troops had to be called to control the crowds.

Published by Hannah Humphrey: October 25, 1805
Etching and engraving, hand-colored

Published by Hannah Humphrey: October 25, 1805
Etching and engraving, hand-colored

Gillray contrasts the harmony of courtship with the discord of marriage in the guise of an amateur recital, a popular form of entertainment that Gillray considered in several other satires. In Harmony Before Matrimony, all is in rapturous accord: in an oval picture, Cupid takes aim at amorous doves; cats gambol playfully; goldfish swim toward each other; even a butterfly is attracted to his reflection in the mirror. The couple harmonize in love duets, and between them on the table is a copy of Ovid’s The Art of Love.

But marriage takes its toll. The wife now sings “forte” of “Torture – Fury – Rage – Despair – I cannot can not bear,” and on the piano and the floor are other songs in the recital, “Separation a Finale for Two Voices with Accompaniment” and “The Wedding Ring A Dirge.” The baby cries, while a cat hisses at a barking dog, and the lovebirds are caught mid-squawk. Cupid sleeps on the mantelpiece, and the fire in the fireplace can’t dull the domestic chill registering on the thermometer. Ovid is replaced on the chair by “The Art of Tormenting.”

TALES of WONDER! This attempt to describe the effects of the Sublime & Wonderful, is dedicated to M.G. Lewis Esqr. M.P.
Published by Hannah Humphrey: February 1, 1802
Etching and aquatint with engraving and roulette, hand-colored

Gothic horror stories became very popular at the end of the eighteenth century, a reflection of a Romantic reaction in the arts against the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment. Here, a fashionably dressed woman reads aloud to her companions, who are riveted by M. G. (“Monk”) Lewis’s blood-curdling tale The Monk (1796), the story of a monk who, during the Spanish Inquisition, descends into depravity and sells his soul to the devil. The décor is in keeping with the genre’s penchant for torture chambers and dark medieval castles. The objets d’art on the mantelpiece include a Gorgon, who looks alarmed; a skeleton intertwined with a snake; and a dragon, while a relief over the fireplace shows Pluto spiriting away Persephone. A painting on the wall offers up a scene of rape and pillage, as a man in armor carries off a young woman. Violence, eroticism, and evil directed against virtue were part of one variety of the melodramatic mix that defined the popular Gothic novel.

Advantages of wearing Muslin Dresses! – dedicated to the serious attention of the Fashionable Ladies of Great Britain.
Published by Hannah Humphrey: February 15, 1802
Etching with engraving and roulette, hand-colored

Muslin dresses were fashionable at this time, and the unfortunate events Gillray depicts here were based on true-life stories. The framed picture of the volcano, inspired no doubt by Hamilton’s studies of the recent eruptions of Vesuvius and Aetna, echo the conflagration below.

Published by Hannah Humphrey: May 17, 1792
Etching and aquatint, hand-colored

Gillray etched a number of satires on the eccentricities and excesses of men’s and women’s fashionable clothing. The spencer was a short double-breasted overcoat, named for George John Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer (probably the figure on the left), who, according to one legend, wagered that he could start a fashion by trimming the skirts of his overcoat (allegedly clipped during a riding accident). He is joined by a gentleman wearing a long pleated coat, which Gillray compares to a thread-paper, a pleated card used to divide skeins of thread. The term came to describe a slender person.

The Fashionable Mamma, – or – The Convenience of Modern Dress. Vide. The Pocket Hole, &c.
Published by Hannah Humphrey: February 15, 1796
Etching with engraving and roulette, hand-colored

Historian Diana Donald points out that Gillray wryly contrasts here the fashion for “natural dress” and the mother’s unnatural lack of interest in her nursing child. While the loose-fitting, draped garment seems designed for breast-feeding, the mother’s attention is elsewhere, as she readies herself to depart in the waiting carriage. Mary Wollstonecraft and Hannah More had already observed, according to Donald, that “a preoccupation with fashionable enjoyments alienated upper-class women from their role as nursing mothers.”

Although the high-waisted dress was popularized in France during the Directory and the Empire, M. Dorothy George observes that it “had an independent and earlier origin in England.” In 1793, Lady Charlotte Campbell had introduced the clinging high-waisted dress “imitating the drapery of pictures and statues,” with the breasts lightly covered or left bare. As part of the “look,” stomach pads were placed beneath the bust, which could suggest nothing other than pregnancy.

As historian Linda Colley has pointed out, the “cult of prolific maternity was immensely attractive to those who believed … that Britain’s population was in decline, and to those who simply wanted more live births so that the nation might better compete in terms of cannon-fodder with France.” Women were encouraged to breed and breast-feed (rather than depend on wet-nurses), and legislators and charitable organizations supported maternity hospitals. The motto of the Lying-in Charity for Married Women significantly and succinctly stated: “Increase of Children a Nation’s Strength.”

Hero’s recruiting at Kelsey’s; – or – Guard-Day at St. James’s.
Published by Hannah Humphrey: June 9, 1797
Etching, hand-colored

According to historian Linda Colley, fear of a French invasion led to the expansion of the civil defense force between 1797 and 1805. By the early nineteenth century, one in four adult males in Britain was in uniform. Gillray alludes here to the practice that allowed minors to purchase military commissions and promotions. According to Draper Hill, this notorious system led the Duke of York, as Commander-in-Chief, in March 1795 to recall all captains under age twelve and all lieutenant-colonels under twenty. Here, an army officer, identified as Captain Birch, entertains a new recruit, so young his feet don’t touch the floor when he perches on the chair. Both savor desserts served up at Kelsey’s, a sweet shop run by Francis Kelsey on St. James’s Street. The year this print was published, 1797, Hannah Humphrey, Gillray’s publisher, landlady, and friend, moved her shop to St. James’s Street. Gillray lived “over the shop” beginning in 1793, first on Old Bond Street, then in 1794 at New Bond Street, and finally, in the attic at 27 St. James’s Street.

Published by Hannah Humphrey: May 7, 1803
Etching and engraving, hand-colored

Gillray shows five Germans dining at “The Sun and Thirteen Cantons,” an inn in Leicester Square established by a Viennese, Edward Weyler, and run, at the time of this print, by Susannah Weyler. The menu suggests that every course featured sauerkraut, and even a dog and a cat join in the feast. Gillray compares the gluttonous group with, in the background, a picture of pigs lined up at a trough.

Gillray may also be alluding here to an underlying strong tie between England and Germany. In 1714, in an effort to secure a Protestant Succession, Parliament passed over numerous Catholics in line to the throne, and instead offered the monarchy to George Ludwig of Hanover. Though he had only a smattering of English, George I came with Lutheran credentials.


Next Section

Privacy Policy | Rules and Regulations | Using the Internet | Website Terms and Conditions | © The New York Public Library