Exhibition: October 29, 2004 – January 30, 2005
The golden age of English caricature, extending from the late 1770s to the second decade of the nineteenth century, encompasses the life of its leading exponent, James Gillray (1756–1815), who contributed in no small measure to the brilliance and audacity of the political, personal, and social satires of this period. Gillray subjected all the key political figures of his day, along with the King, Queen, Prince of Wales, and assorted aristocracy, to his witty, telling, and often outrageous exaggerations, elaborations, and confabulations and, in the process, transformed the then new genre of personal caricature into high art. He was a brilliant draftsman and skilled printmaker, whose firm grasp of the essentials of history painting, fashionable portraiture, and contemporary romantic and “gothic” art allowed him to burlesque those traditions, even as allusions to these sources enriched his satires. His images, inventively interwoven with carefully worded titles and texts, reflect his familiarity not only with current events, issues, and scandals, but with ancient history, mythology, and contemporary and classical literature.