Tim Clayton was educated at Norwich School and Saint Catharine’s College, Cambridge, where he read English. After some years working for the print collector Christopher Lennox-Boyd, during which time he compiled George Stubbs: the Complete Engraved Works (1989), he won a research fellowship at Worcester College, Oxford, where he wrote The English Print 1688-1802 (1997) and catalogued the print collection of George Clarke (1661-1736).
With his friend Phil Craig he then worked on the television series and book Finest Hour (1999), Diana: Story of a Princess, and the critically acclaimed Trafalgar: the Men, the Battle, the Storm (2004). His next book Tars was the winner of the 2008 Mountbatten Literary Award.
Tim is a specialist in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century history and culture, being one the leading experts in the world on the printed images of that period and on their historical background and significance. He was co-curator of the exhibition Bonaparte and the British which was on show at the British Museum in 2015 to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and author, with Sheila O’Connell, of the accompanying catalogue. He was an associate editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and has contributed to the Cambridge History of the Book, the Chicago History of the Map and the Cambridge History of the Napoleonic Wars as the author of the chapter on the Waterloo Campaign.
He is an Honorary Research Fellow of the British Museum, an Associate Fellow of the University of East Anglia, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. He is an experienced lecturer and has contributed to a variety of radio and television programmes and is prepared to act as a consultant to print collectors, auctioneers or dealers and to advise on print cataloguing.
His latest book James Gillray: A Revolution in Satire won the Apollo Book of the Year award for 2023. It describes the career of the greatest of visual satirists, James Gillray, who cast a sardonic eye on the ironies of the age of revolution, producing prints that remain hilarious to this day.
James Gillray: A Revolution in Satire
Winner of the Apollo Book of the Year award 2023.
James Gillray (1756-1815) was late Georgian Britain’s funniest, most inventive and most celebrated graphic satirist and continues to influence cartoonists today. His brilliant drawing, matched by his verve/flair for clever/scintillating dialogue and witty titles, won him unprecedented fame as a political satirist; his sophisticated designs parodied artists of the day such as William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds, while he borrowed and wittily redeployed celebrated passages from William Shakespeare and John Milton to send up politicians in an age – as now – where society was fast changing, anxieties abounded, truth was sometimes scarce, and public opinion mattered.
Tim Clayton’s definitive biography explores Gillray’s life and work through his friends, publishers – the most important being women – and collaborators. Clayton’s compelling narrative reveals the tensions between artistic independence, financial necessity and the conflicting demands of patrons and self-appointed censors in a time of political and social turmoil, also recreating the networks that invented satirical prints and the emerging markets for them.
Gillray’s first satires addressed the American War of Independence; during the libertine 1780s he was involved in the creation of previously unknown erotic prints as well as daring attacks on the royal family; later his prints reflected the anxious state of Britain as revolutionary France abolished both monarchy and church. During the long wars against Napoleon, Gillray was recruited to work for various politicians, and this book traces their growing recognition of the importance of public opinion and the role of propaganda in war.
Including previously unseen work, James Gillray: A Revolution in Satire reveals how the artist cast a sardonic eye over the rich ironies of the age of revolution, creating prints that continue to be celebrated for their technical brilliance and daring wit, and that remain hilarious to this day.
My wider current research interests include the print trade in the period 1700 to 1820, the production of political satire and propaganda and the military history of the Napoleonic wars.
Find out more about my recent research publications.
I have guided tours for The Cultural Experience on the Napoleonic War in southern Spain in May 2017 focusing on Cadiz and the Battle of Trafalgar, and of the battlefields of Ligny, Quatre Bras and Waterloo in June 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
I frequently lecture on visual print culture in the long eighteenth century and in a more popular way on prints, battles, gardens, Stubbs, Gillray, caricature, spies and propaganda in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I am available to speak at conferences, literary festivals and other events.
Tim’s work encompasses best selling military histories, art history, academic research and TV and radio features and appearances.
'Tim Clayton's book is a magisterial study of a great popular artist: a full-scale interpretation of James Gillray's output of satirical prints, and a biography that warrants comparison with the best ever done on an 18th-century artist.''READ MORE
'Georgian satirists and printsellers operated in market conditions that rarely sponsored free, imaginative expression: draftsmen tended to work anonymously, accepting, as they had to, commissions or “hints” from patrons on both sides of the political aisle; most would have conceived of themselves as talented artists-for-hire rather than fearless, independent commentators. Tim Clayton’s new biography, the product of meticulous attention to the milieu printmakers worked in, suggests that in Gillray’s case circumstance and exceptional skill went hand in hand.'READ MORE
'A fascinating, well-rounded life of Gillray . . . Clayton has done an impressive, thorough job'READ MORE
'Nuanced and convincing . . . the level of detail in this massive and masterly book is breathtaking'.READ MORE
'Wonderful . . . thoroughly researched and lavishly illustrated'READ MORE