James Gillray, John Bull Roasted, c.1807

The image of the nation as a great ox being slowly roasted for consumption by members of the government is one which appears to have occupied James Gillray’s mind on a number of occasions during the mid-1800s. However despite the fact that he made no less than three preparatory drawings for a caricature on this subject, it seems as though he ultimately failed to translate the design into a finished print for some reason.

The drawing shown here was formerly the property of the American cartoonist and Gillray historian Draper Hill (1935 – 2009) and will be offered up for auction here in England in a couple of weeks time. The other two sketched versions of this caricature can be found in the Courtauld Institute and the New York Public Library. The latter version has the line John Bull Roasted hastily scrawled across it and this is assumed to have been Gillray’s working title for the design.

So why did Gillray produce three versions of the same image? Ordinarily this could perhaps be explained by variations between the different drawings which would suggest that he was trying out different ideas as he worked towards a composition that he was happy with. However, apart from the fact that the Courtauld’s version is a mirror image of the other two and is drawn almost entirely in chalk, there does not appear to be a great deal of difference between the three sketches of the design. Nor can this be an image which Gillray kept returning to over a number of years, as the caricature relates to the short-lived ‘Ministry of All the Talents’ and therefore all three drawings must have been completed during their time in office between February 1806 and March 1807. Perhaps the presence of Gillray’s signature on this version and the Courtauld’s copy indicate that they were sold or given away to collectors shortly after they were drawn, thus requiring him to re-draw the design when the idea of engraving it resurfaced some weeks or months later? Whatever the explanation it is clear that Gillray couldn’t quite make up his mind about this caricature and went through the process of repeatedly working it up before finally abandoning the project once the Ministry of All the Talents left office in March 1807.

The handwritten notes on the New York Public Library’s version of this drawing indicate that the image was conceived as a satire on the ‘New Plan of Finance’ announced in Parliament by Lord Henry Petty, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on 29th January 1807. The plan essentially called for a massive unfunded increase in public debt which would be used to meet the immediate costs of continuing the war against France and her European allies. The public was promised that taxes would remain at their current level for the next three years, but opponents of the plan rightly warned that the proposed levels of borrowing would require swingeing tax rises to service the national debt once this period of grace had expired.

Gillray shows the Prime Minister Lord Grenville as a cook basting John Bull with loans. The flanks of the roasting beef are covered in indistinct labels, one of which reads ‘New Loans’, whilst the juices from the meat drop into the ‘Broad Bottomed Dripping Tray’ which has been placed beneath the carcass on the floor. Lord Henry Petty is depicted as a ‘spit dog’ running in a wheel which turns the spit to which John Bull’s carcass has been fastened. Sidmouth, Lord Privy Seal in the Talents administration, stands on the far right of the images washing dishes in a sink, possibly intended as a visual pun on the new sinking fund that his government was planning to introduce. The caricature may have been intended to serve as a sequel to John Bull and the sinking-fund-a Pretty scheme for reducing the Taxes & Paying-off the National Debt! , Gillray’s other caricature on the New Plan of Finance, which was published by Hannah Humphrey on 23rd February 1807. However the Ministry of All the Talents was dismissed from office a month later and the New Plan of Finance was immediately shelved by their successors, thus rendering further satires on the subject irrelevant.

The image was initially sketched in red chalk and then outlined in ink. The paper carries an 1805 watermark for the company of Ruse & Turners Upper Tovil Mill in Maidstone, Kent. It is estimated to fetch somewhere between £3,000 and £5,000.

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C.J. Grant after Hogarth c.1833

The popularity of Hogarth’s works remained undiminished in Britain in the hundred years that followed his death in 1764. Prints taken from Hogarth’s own plates remained in near continuous publication during this time and were increasingly supplemented by growing numbers of copies and pirated editions. By the closing decades of the Hanoverian era in the 1820s and 1830s, Hogarthian imagery had essentially become a kind of visual vernacular that would have been recognised and understood by almost everyone. A tally of newspaper advertisements from this period give us some indication of just how popular these prints were, with the British Library online newspaper archive containing 680 newspaper advertisements carrying the name ‘Hogarth’ between 1830 and 1835. That’s equivalent to one new advertisement being published every three days for five years.

At the lower end of the market demand for Hogarth images was fed by cheap copies and imitations which reworked ideas and images from the original plates. For example, a pair of prints attributed to S.W. Fores and thought to have been published around 1820, presents a politicised version of Industry & Idleness in which the industriousness of the poor is contrasted with the failings of the idle rich. Another example Hogarth’s works being recycled by later generations of caricaturists can be found in this small except from C.J. Grant’s Frontispiece to the Penny Magazine. Volume the Third (c.1833). This was a lithographically engraved ‘scrap sheet’ of small caricature vignettes that could either be viewed as a whole or cut up and reassembled in a scrap book.

The humour in the design is derived from a mixture of visual puns and mockery of the antiquated moral and social messages which often underpinned Hogarth’s work. For example, Grant’s Marriage a la Mode is speeding carriage carrying a couple towards an illicit wedding in Gretna Green, making the stilted formalities of the 1740s seem ridiculous by comparison. The Rake’s Progress and the Harlot’s Progress arguably convey a more politicised message on the futility of poverty and the complete absence of social mobility in 1830s Britain. In both cases – a couple trapped on a workhouse treadmill and the prostitute being led from a pawn shop to the door of a brothel – the idea that they will be able to progress from their current situation seems nonsensical. It’s possible to place a similar interpretation of Grant’s version of The Industrious & Idle Apprentices, which shows one road-sweeper hard at work whilst his friend lounges on a bench and says “I say Bill, let them work wot carnt do vithout it ha ha ha! [sic]”. The message here seems to be that there is little point in exerting oneself in a society in which one’s chances in life are so heavily determined by birth and social class. The Enraged Musician and The Distress’d Poet are lighter in tone and essentially conventional reworkings of Hogarth’s original designs.

The Able Doctor in Freebetter’s Almanack, 1776

This woodcut engraved caricature was used as a frontispiece to the 1776 edition of Freebetter’s New England Almanack. It is a copy of an English caricature entitled The able doctor, or America swallowing the bitter draught which was originally published in the London Magazine in 1774. The American artist has reversed the image and deleted the Earl of Bute, who is shown standing at the far right of the English edition, carrying weaponry which symbolises the imposition of martial law on the unruly colonists.

Almanacs were extremely popular during the eighteenth-century, with annual sales in England exceeding the total of all other publications combined. As a such they were also one of the few forms of publication to be regularly bought by people drawn from the lower and middling ranks of the social spectrum. The almanac’s popularity was derived from its utility and low retail price. For a few pence, customers were able to purchase a pocket-sized book which simultaneously served as a calendar, diary, reference book and source of entertainment. The core function of the almanac was an agricultural calendar which also carried feast days, holidays and other notable events. However from the 1730s onwards, publishers began to insert useful articles on subjects ranging from health to astrology, stories, travel information, and conversion charts. Sadly few of these publications have survived and the relatively poor quality of the materials used to make them means that those which have are often in poor condition.

Americans inherited the English obsession with the almanac, with the first domestic edition being published in Cambridge Massachusetts in 1639. By the time the Revolution broke out in 1775, the American colonies boasted dozens of domestically produced titles with annual circulation figures likely to have been in the high tens or low hundreds of thousands. Freebetter’s New England Almanack was published by Timothy Green in New London, Connecticut, between 1772 and 1792. Green was a prolific publisher of all manner of printed materials and its possible that he also sold imported English books and prints. This would certainly explain how he was able to obtain a copy of a caricature from the London Magazine. It’s an interesting reminder of the geographic and social spread of English caricatures in this period.

This is one of a set of twelve American almanac titles published between 1776 and 1784 which are being offered up for sale in a US auction next month. They carry an estimate of $800 – $1,000 (£650 – £850), which seems reasonable given that a number of online dealers are currently asking around $600 for an individual 1770s edition of Freebetter’s… For more on the English almanac trade see James Raven, Publishing Business in Eighteenth-Century England, Woodbridge, 2014. pp. 201 – 205.

Raven after Boilly, Les Cinq Sens, Snuffbox c.1825

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This papier-mâché snuff box has been decorated with a copy of Louis-Leopold Boilly’s Les cinq sens [The Five Senses], one of ninety-six lithographic plates later grouped under the collective title Recueil de grimaces [Collection of Grimaces] which were published in Paris between 1823 and 1828.

The underside of the lid is signed by Samuel Raven (c.1774 – 1847), a Birmingham artist who specialised in portraiture and works in miniature. Raven had begun his career working for the japanner Henry Clay but the popularity of his work was such that by 1815 this relationship had inverted, with Clay supplying plain boxes for Raven to decorate on his own account.

By 1820 Raven’s work had become highly regarded and sought after by royalty and other assorted members of the aristocracy. The following notice, which appeared in Aris’s Gazette of 21st February 1820, provides some indication of the extent of his popularity at that time:

‘His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, after having personally expressed himself to S. Raven that he was highly gratified with the Segar [sic] Case lately presented to him, was pleased to command that Portraits should be taken, by the same Artist, of his Royal Highness and the late Duke of Kent; which being now finished may be seen previous to their transmission to Kensington Palace, at Mr. Cooke’s, Carver and Gilder, New Street’.

It was presumably around this time that Raven began adding the postscript “Patronaged by H.R.H. the Duke of Sussex & Prince Leopold” to his signature as a means of advertising his famous clientele. This box may have originally carried the same message, as there are clearly traces of further writing below the  words ‘Raven pinxit’ on the underside of the lid which have subsequently been obliterated.


 

Notes

  1. A short biography of Samuel Raven, including examples of his work on snuff boxes and a self-portrait of the artist can be found on the Eighteenth Century Birmingham blog.
  2. Most snuff boxes were small items intended for personal use. The box shown here measures 9.5cm in diameter and was small enough to place in a coat pocket. However Raven also decorated larger boxes for use in taverns and other communal spaces. The V&A has one of those boxes, decorated with a portrait of George IV, in its collection.