James Gillray

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From The Wall Street Journal:

‘The Apples and the Horse-Turds; or, Buonaparte Among the Golden Pippins’ (1808) by James Gillray.

In 1779, Napoleon Bonaparte, having seized power in France, appealed to George III for an end to the eight years of war that had followed the French Revolution. Britain’s foreign secretary, Lord Grenville, replied that France, if it really wanted peace, should restore its legitimate monarchy. Samuel Whitbread, an opposition MP, argued for talks with Napoleon, saying that power, however attained, must be respected.

The episode sparked an especially caustic illustration—what we would call a political cartoon—from the British satirist James Gillray (1756-1815). It showed Napoleon in a peculiar landscape setting. He seems to have rolled down from a dunghill mushroomed with French notables (Voltaire among them) and into a stream where “royal pippins”—a kind of apple here signifying real legitimacy—float alongside him. “We apples,” Napoleon says, though we can see that he doesn’t belong in their number. He is a foul intruder.

Napoleon was the butt of other Gillray drawings. As Tim Clayton shows us in “James Gillray: A Revolution in Satire,” the French emperor—and menace to peace—was depicted as a tinpot tyrant. In a Gillray illustration playing off “Gulliver’s Travels,” a puzzled George III peers through a telescope at a tiny Napoleon standing in an angry pose on the king’s outstretched hand. The French generally come in for rough Gillray treatment. In another drawing, Parisian revolutionaries appear as cannibals.

These works capture Gillray’s style, juxtaposing vulgarity with literary allusion and extravagant caricature with sharp draftsmanship. Mr. Clayton’s well-researched and lavishly illustrated study makes a strong case for Gillray as the creator of a genre of graphic art—and as a forceful commentator. The artist’s caricatures shaped how the public saw politicians and royal figures, not to mention socialites and literary celebrities. Today’s political cartoonists quite properly credit Gillray as a major forerunner.

. . . .

Avoiding grotesque invention, Gillray went beyond simple reality with (in the words of the 20th-century cartoonist David Low) “a discriminating exaggeration of truth.” Thus, in “The Lover’s Dream,” we see the Prince of Wales (in the 1790s) sweetly sleeping on a luxurious royal bed and dreaming of the queen swooping down, like an angel in a Renaissance painting, to pay his enormous debts. Mr. Clayton’s selection takes readers on a journey through Georgian politics and society with a guide who spared no one.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

3 thoughts on “James Gillray”

    • Isn’t fact checking the Publisher’s job? They oughta do SOMEthing to justify the $65.00 price at Amazon.

      PS. Add my name to the list of people who believe these captchas are intended to lower all interactions with the site.

  1. That factual error in the very first clause (1799, not 1779) — which appears in the OP, it’s not a typo by PG — rather undermines a lot of the rest of the analysis. The French Revolution didn’t begin until 1789(ish), became full-blown in 1792, and Bonaparte didn’t become Consul — thereby giving him reason to write to George III in the first place — until 1799.


    And that lack of perspective rather infects the OP’s inaccurate assertion of “invention of a genre,” which is off by at least a century (Hogarth, not to mention the illustrations appearing in early editions of Swift’s non-broadside works) and was made possible by… jury nullification in the Colonies (the acquittal of John Peter Zenger in 1735 Over Here led directly to the first, however inadequate, softening of defamation law Over There that in turn made publishing Gillray’s works commercially viable).

    tl;dr Don’t uncritically accept someone’s claim that the subject of their book is/was “new” and “innovative” without doing a bit of cross-checking. And don’t go for quick-glib-and-easy praise for the sake of brevity — over accuracy — either.

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