A lavishly illustrated biography of James Gillray, inventor of the art of political caricature
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 flair for clever dialogue and amusing 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.
Jacqueline Riding, Country Life
Grant Lewis, British Museum Magazine
Martin Gayford, The Spectator
World of Interiors
Roger Malbert, The Art Newspaper
Nicholas Babbington, Apollo
22nd September 2022
Art History, History