Here’s another item that falls outside of the period with which this blog normally concerns itself but is nevertheless interesting enough to warrant a closer look. The Brother to the Moon’s Visit to the Court of Queen Vic is a set of 24 lithographic etchings by Richard Doyle which tell the story of an official Chinese delegation to London. It was published in March 1843 by H.P. & G.T. Fores of Piccadilly (the sons of the famous Georgian printseller S.W. Fores) and printed by William Kohler of Denmark Street.
The plates depict an elaborate procession of Chinese diplomats, courtiers, soldiers and entertainers, wending their way towards an audience with Queen Victoria. Turning the pages we come across members of the ‘Celestial Guard’ and the Imperial Band as well as a troupe of performing acrobats, all skillfully engraved and finished with delicate hand-colouring. It almost goes without saying that these images are not informed by modern standards of political correctness and they play on stereotypes of Asian culture which were already well-established in British visual satire by the 1790s. In this case however the idea that the Chinese pose any real threat to Britain has been utterly overthrown and the members of the delegation are depicted a diminutive grotesques surrounded by laughably antiquated accouterments. This is hardly surprising as, six months before the prints were published, Britain had used modern weaponry to flatten the Chinese army and impose a humiliating peace treaty which ended the First Opium War.
Unusually we may know exactly when the idea for this caricature first occurred to the artist. Doyle was writing to his father, the famous caricaturist John Doyle (HB), on Christmas Day 1842 and concluded by mentioning several items of news that he thought may be of interest:
…The names of the Pantomimes are announced. The Chinese Ambassador is coming (may his shadow never be less), a great fall in the price of bread, numerous families are roaring out Christmas hymns in the streets, and the latest mail conveys the intelligence that the plum pudding is in a forward state .
He then added a quick drawing of a fat mandarin his gaggle of servants to the margins of the letter along with several other doodles.
The first advertisement for the prints appeared in the Literary Gazette of 11th March 1843. It states that the folder of prints was available from the Fores’ shop at a cost of 5s plain or 10s coloured. You’ll notice that the cover of this copy has the abbreviation “Col[oure]d written on the top, presumably for ease of reference when the folios were stacked together on the shop’s shelves. There is also an interesting flyleaf stuck to the inside of the front-cover, advertising other prints which were being sold by the Fores’ brothers at this time. Whilst many of the titles would not have looked out of place in their father’s day, there is a notable move towards the serial publication of sets or collections of caricatures, as well as the encroachment of French prints onto the English market.
- G.F. Scott (ed.) The Illustrated Letters of Richard Doyle to His Father, 1842 – 1843, Athens OH, 2016.