An 1821 caricature of Humphrey's shop on St James's street. The figures that can be seen through the door on the right are thought to be Theodore Lane and George Humphrey.

An 1821 caricature of Humphrey’s shop on St James’s street. The figures that can be seen through the door on the right are thought to be Theodore Lane and George Humphrey.

The history of James Gillray’s career as a caricaturist is closely intertwined with that of the Humphrey family, a group of siblings and latterly their children, who were to occupy the leading position in London’s satirical print trade for a period of roughly fifty years from the mid-1770s to the mid-1820s.

The association between Gillray and the Humphreys began with William Humphrey (1745 – 1810), who was to publish some of Gillray’s earliest satirical plates and effectively helped launch his career as a caricaturist. By 1790, William’s sister Hannah (1745 – 1818) had become Gillray’s principle patron and a close personal friend of the artist’s family. Gillray would eventually move into rooms above Hannah Humphrey’s shop and give her exclusive rights to publish and sell his prints. Following Hannah’s death in 1818 the business passed to her nephew George (1770 – 1831) who would remain at the helm until his own passing 13 years later. 

While George Humphrey was able to keep the business alfoat by reissuing his stock of old plates by famous names such as Gillray, Rowlandson and Bunbury, as well as commissioning new prints from artists such as George Cruikshank and William Heath, the business was slowly overtaken by a new generation of satirical publishers. When George’s widow Marianne died in 1835 the business was finally put into administration and its remaining assets were sold.

The contents of the Humphrey family’s printshop were sold at auction by E. Foster & Son of 54 Pall Mall. The sale ran for three days and included thousands of lots, ranging from mundane items such as furniture and household effects, to hundreds of engraved copperplates and original works by some of the most famous names in the late eighteenth-century satirical art. Most of these paintings and drawings were sold on the first day of the sale, 13th June 1835, and were mainly bought by members of the London print and art-dealing fraternity. The record of these items has now been entered into the Getty Research Institute’s Provenance Index and can be viewed online.

I have reproduced the GPI results for the Humphrey sale below. As you can see, the contents of the sale included hundreds if not thousands of original sketches and drawings by James Gillray as well as a few other items by noted names from the 1780s and 1790s. We know that some of these items were sold on to the British Museum or private collectors and have survived down to the present day, but many more appear to have been lost forever. The low hammer price achieved by many of the lots indicates the degree to which Gillray’s popularity had declined by start of the Victorian era. Many of original drawings and paintings were sold for less than the price would would have been expected to pay for a coloured copy of one of his prints in the 1790s and the items that did relatively well were those without an apparent link to caricature at all, such as the (now lost) views of Brighton and Margate.

Lot Artist Title / description Price Buyer
473 Gillray, James Portraits, &c. on cards – 53 5s Marchant
472 Gillray, James Ditto [Various of old Caricatures] — 16 6s Colnaghi
471 Gillray, James Ditto [Various of old Caricatures] — 20 4s McLean
470 Gillray, James Various of old Caricatures — 21 5s McLean
469 Gillray, James Portraits of Public Characters — 18 7s McLean
468 Gillray, James Various — 14 4s Solly
467 Gillray, James Various Sketches — 17 3s Solly
466 Gillray, James Matthews’ Drama, &c. — 4 11s Solly
465 Gillray, James Musical Dandies — 10 8s Palser
464 Gillray, James Military Anecdotes, &c. — 7 4s Money
463 Gillray, James Le Palais Royal, &c. — 6 4s Palser
462 Gillray, James The French Artist, Laplanders, &c. — 8 8s Colnaghi
460 Capt. Marriott View of Hatchett’s, by Capt. Marriott, &c. — 7 9s McLean
461 Gillray, James Various Caricatures — 13 5s Palser
459 Lane, Theodore Contending for a Seat, and 14 others, all by Lane — 15 12s McLean
458 Gillray, James A Fry, a Broil, &c. the set — 8 8s Palser
457 Gillray, James Academy Figures, &c. — 22 2s Marchant
456 Humphrey, [George?] Caricatures, by Humphrey, &c. — 91 15s Colnaghi
455 Various Various by Old Masters 6s Colnaghi
454 Bunbury, William Henry Various by Dighton, Bunbury, &c. — 11 7s Colnaghi
453 Rowlandson, Thomas A Dash Down St. James’s Street, by Rowlandson, &c. — 11 6s Evans
452 Gillray, James The Ass in the Lion’s Skin, &c. — 2 3s McLean
451 Gillray, James Rake’s Progress at the University, &c. — 11 6s McLean
450 Gillray, James The Stein of Brighton, &c. — 16 £1 3s Colnaghi
449 Gillray, James Elements of Skaiting, &c. — 16 6s Colnaghi
448 Gillray, James Ditto [Humorous, on cards] — 15 6s Money
447 Gillray, James Humorous, on cards — 21 14s Money
446 Gillray, James Portraits of Public Characters – 41 £1 1s Colnaghi
444 Gillray, James Various sketches, Portraits, &c. — 42 9s Colnaghi
443 Gillray, James Ditto [Portraits, First sketches, on cards, of distinguished Characters, taken at public meetings by Mr. Gillray, to introduce into his prints] — 75 £1 2s Colnaghi
442 Gillray, James Portraits, First sketches, on cards, of distinguished Characters, taken at public meetings by Mr. Gillray, to introduce into his prints — 75

 

£1 18s Solly
441 Gillray, James A Peep into the Cave of Jacobinism, &c. — 6 8s Palser
439 Gillray, James Progress of the Toilet, &c. — 3 12s Palser
438 Gillray, James Every Rogue is a Coward, &c. — 5 6s Money
437 Gillray, James The King of Brobdingnag, &c. — 3 9s McLean
434 Gillray, James Ditto [Study in oil], Britannia, &c. — 2 10s Palser
433 Gillray, James Ditto [Study in oil], Jacobin Education — 1 8s Palser
432 Gillray, James Ditto [Study in oil] — 1 8s Colnaghi
431 Gillray, James Ditto [Study in oil] — 1 12s Colnaghi
430 Gillray, James Study in oil — 1 18s Colnaghi
429 Gillray, James A Cure for Drowsiness, &c. — 4 £1 1s Colnaghi
427 Gillray, James Pair, Liberty without Law, and Lawful Liberty — 2 15s Colnaghi
425 Gillray, James Farmer Giles, &c. — 3 19s McLean
424 Gillray, James Evening, or a Rapturous Idea, &c. — 2 10s Colnaghi
423 Gillray, James Various sketches — 4 15s Palser
422 Gillray, James Phaeton Alarmed, &c. — 3 12s Colnaghi
421 Gillray, James Garden of Old Time, &c. — 6 £1 Edwards
420 Gillray, James Gaming, &c. — 4 £1 1s Colnaghi
419 Gillray, James Cobbett’s Procession, &c. — 2 16s Colnaghi
418 Gillray, James Journey to Margate, the set — 11 £2 Solly
417 Gillray, James Alexander the Great at the Tomb of Prusssian, Achilles, &c. — 3 £1 Colnaghi
416 Gillray, James Golgotha, or the Place of Sculls, &c. — 4 £1 1s Colnaghi
415 Gillray, James Somebody, Nobody, &c. — 5 17s McLean
414 Gillray, James Ditto [Various Portraits] — 12 £1 2s McLean
413 Gillray, James Various Portraits — 13 £1 5s Colnaghi
412 Gillray, James Exhibition of Pictures, &c. — 6 £1 8s Colnaghi
411 Gillray, James Various Sketches — 10 12s Colnaghi
410 Gillray, James The Attempt to Assassinate a Branch of the Blood Royal in the Palace, &c. — 5 9s Colnaghi
409 Gillray, James Shipping — 5 5s Colnaghi
408 Gillray, James Pair, Calm and Storm, &c. — 7 14s Money
407 Gillray, James Ditto [Various small Sketches] — 21 13s Palser
406 Gillray, James Various small Sketches — 21 16s Colnaghi
405 Gillray, James Retirement from Public Business, &c. — 8 16s Palser
404 Gillray, James Broadbottom, Dripping Pan, &c. — 6 11s Colnaghi
403 Gillray, James Phantasmagoria, &c. — 9 16s Colnaghi
402 Gillray, James Charon’s Boat, &c. — 4 13s Colnaghi
400 Gillray, James Ditto [Various Sketches] — 13 12s Colnaghi
399 Gillray, James Ditto [Various Sketches] — 12 10s Colnaghi
398 Gillray, James Various Sketches — 30 15s Colnaghi
  1. Engraved by Theodore Lane and published by Humphrey in January 1822. See BM 14451 & 14453.
  2. A pen and watercolour caricature by Lt-Col. Thomas Braddyll (1776 – 1862) which has been mistakenly attributed to Gillray. Braddyll was an amateur artist who submitted designs for caricatures to Gillray.
  3. Possibly Voltaire Instructing the Infant Jacobinism and undated oil on paper work in the New York Public Library. Illustrated in James Gillray the art of Caricature p. 107.
  4. Engraved by George Cruikshank and published by Humphrey in January 1822. BM 14442.
  5. The original is now in the British Museum collection but no images have been made available online. Illustrated in Donald p. 157.
  6. Possibly BM 10755, an ink and chalk sketch for an apparently unpublished satire entitled Alexander and Frederick swearing over ye Tomb of Frederick ye Great to extirpate ye Corsican Butcher from ye earth. A.M. Broadley describes a different version of the same drawing which was part of his collection. It is not clear which picture the 1835 sales catalogue refers to.

 

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