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Posts Tagged ‘British caricature’

Caricature by Robert Seymour, 1830

After the death of Princess Charlotte in childbirth in 1817, the British Royal family was left without a legitimate heir to the throne. Since their marriage, King George IV had felt an overpowering physical and mental aversion to Queen Caroline, his consort, and the possibility of his begetting another child on her was less than zero.

None of the King’s brothers were married. The Dukes of York, Clarence, Kent, Cumberland, Sussex, and Cambridge all began to court potential brides in earnest.

In 1818 William Henry, Duke of Clarence, who would reign as King William IV, abandoned his 20-year relationship with Mrs. Jordan, with whom he had ten children, to marry Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, a rather plain lady half his age. In short time the strong-willed duchess managed to take her husband’s finances in hand and pay off his debts through economical living. Parliament voted to increase his allowance, which the Duke, who was angling for more, finally accepted.

William was crowned King in 1830. By all accounts he was faithful to his queen. They lived a sober, almost boring life,  but, sadly, their two infant children did not survive. Queen Adelaide’s strong influence throughout her marriage can be seen in this illustration.This cartoon of the Adelaide Mill, drawn by English caricaturist, Robert Seymour, shows Adelaide decreeing that the court domestics must dress more humbly:

From other contemporary pictorial skits by Seymour we learn that various changes were made in the royal establishment, and the new queen seems to have addressed herself specially to a reform in the dresses of the court domestics. On the 1st of October, 1830, Seymour represents her grinding an enormous machine, called the “Adelaide Mill,” into which the women servants, dressed in the outrageous head-gear and leg-of-mutton sleeves of the period, are perforce ascending, and issuing from the other side attired in plain and more suitable apparel. “No silk gowns,” says Her Majesty as she turns the handle. “No French curls; and I’ll have you all wear aprons.” The new queen seems also to have shown a disposition to encourage native manufactures and produce at the expense of French and continental importations. These changes were not particularly pleasing to the Conservative lady patronesses of Almack’s, who were celebrated at this time for their capricious exclusiveness. One of Robert Seymour’s satires, bearing date the 1st of November, 1830, shows us a conference of these haughty dames, who seriously discuss the propriety of admitting some lady (probably the queen) who proposed appearing at one of the balls “in some vulgar stuff made by the canaille at a place called Kittlefields” [Spitalfields].” – English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century. How they Illustrated and Interpreted their Times, by Graham Everitt

The death of King William IV in 1837 led to the long and successful reign of Queen Victoria, daughter of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent.

Learn more about Mrs Jordan in this link: The Delectable Dora Jordan

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I came across this print by Isaak Cruikshank and was instantly captivated. Instead sketching studies of rich and influential people, Cruikshank used the images of ordinary folks. The study of physiognomy goes back a long time, but as early as the 18th century, it was regarded as a dangerous “science.”

Click on image for a larger view.

Physiognomy was regarded by those who cultivated it as a twofold science: (i) a mode of discriminating character by the outward appearance, and (2) a method of divination from form and feature. On account of the abuses of the latter aspect of the subject its practice was forbidden by the English law. By Ihe act of parliament 17 George II. c. 5 (1743) all persons pretending to have skill in physiognomy wore deemed rogues and vagabonds, and were liable to be publicly whipped, or sent to the house of correction until next sessions.1 The pursuit thus stigmatized as unlawful is one of great antiquity, and one which in ancient and medieval times had an extensive though now almost forgotten literature. It was Very early noticed that the good and evil passions by their continual exercise stamp their impress on the face, and that each particular passion has its own expression”. – The Encyclopedia Britannica, a dictionary of arts and sciences, Vol 21, Google eBook

Physiognomy studies, Charles LeBrun, 17th C

In About faces: physiognomy in nineteenth-century Britain, 2010 ,  Sharrona Pearl discusses the study of facial features and their relationship to character during Jane Austen’s and Charles Dickens’ day. Caricaturists felt the license to distort and exaggerate features, much as Cruikshank did. Portrait artists especially “learned how to communicate internal character and lived experience, while adhering strictly to the viewed external appearance.”

While Cruikshank’s images represented a fascinating study that provided a handy visual bank of expressions and features for the caricaturist, the study of physiognomy could take people down a dangerous path of fostering stereotypes.  Hitler took to this practice to an extreme when he offered descriptions of ideal Aryan features and contrasted them to the facial features of the “typical Jew”.  LeBrun’s image (above) compared people’s facial features to animals. There was nothing fun or funny about such sketches, which were more about prejudiced viewpoints than a reflection of  reality.

Physiognomy Studies after Pierre Thomas Le Clerc, 1760

While it is hard for humans to escape first impressions and to be judged by looks alone,  one has to tread carefully in making assumptions based on regular or irregular features. In the hands of a talented artist, however, one can tell much about the sitter’s character through the skilled manipulation of features and expression. Norman Rockwell tells a delightful tale about the nature of gossip in this masterful 20th century caricature. He needed no words to tell his humorous story.

Click on image for a larger view.

First image: Eighty-four physiognomic caricatures of English eighteenth century types. Etching by I. Cruikshank after G.M. Woodward.
1796 By: George Moutard Woodward after: Isaac Cruikshank
Published: Allen & West,London (15, Paternoster Row) : 1 August 1796
Size: platemark 24.9 x 37.1 cm.
Collection: Iconographic Collections
Library reference no.: ICV No 9699
Full Bibliographic Record Link to Wellcome Library Catalogue

Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc 2.0 UK: England & Wales, see http://images.wellcome.ac.uk/indexplus/page/Prices.html

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During the 18th and early 19th century, social satire prints were engraved and sold separately in print shops. By 1750, the term ‘caricature’ was applied to almost any comic cartoon or satiric illustration.

The ‘golden age’ when James Gillray (1756-1815), Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) and George Cruikshank (1792-1878) were active, occurred between 1780 and 1830. Most satirical prints were produced in London and were sold singly by publishers and booksellers, such as S. W. Fores and William Holland, who also put together collections for clients and even hired them out. A wide range of prices reflected the very different sizes and degrees of sophistication of satirical prints. In 1807 the publisher Thomas Tegg started a business selling cheap, crudely coloured prints aimed at a wide market. - British Museum

“The Fashions of the Day, or Time Past and Present”, an 1807 caricature engraved by Charles Williams after a drawing by Woodward. It presents a contrast between “The Year 1740: A Lady’s full dress of Bombazeen (i.e. bombazine or bombasine, a heavy corded fabric. Black bombazine was worn by widows during heavy mourning) and “The year 1807: A Lady’s undress of Bum-be-seen.”  There are some fascinating details to observe about the fashionable regency lady, whose decolletage is so low that her breasts are practically popping out of their restraints. One can see her drawers under her thin muslin dress, and her stockings come up over her knee. They were held up by garters. (Click on this link to read a fascinating article about stockings and to see a pair of 1820 stockings and garters.  This link also leads to an article about 18th & 19th century hose.) Regency ladies as a rule did not wear drawers for the first 20 years of the 19th century. Those who did wore a modified version of men’s drawers, which tied at the waist and split in the middle. Chances were that, if she did not wear a petticoat or a chemise, her bum would have shown through the thin fabric!


The following comment about Williams’ caricature is from Wikimedia Commons:

Note that “undress” didn’t mean anything naughty — there’s a definition of it here.[1] In pursuing his goal of satirizing certain features of contemporary 1807 fashions, the caricaturist did not really draw a fair comparison between the styles of 1740 and 1807, since a young Regency fashionable is juxtaposed here to a sedate middle-aged pre-Regency lady (perhaps in mourning), and such features of mid-18th century dress as tight stiff stays with extremely low necklines were not included (also, the “1740” costume actually seems to be somewhat of a pastiche with 17th century styles).
(Women’s fashions of the Empire/Regency weren’t always “sensible”, but their excesses do seem to be more in accord overall with the spirit of the 21st century than the fashion excesses of most other periods between the 16th century and World War I, which tended to go in for such things as huge hoopskirts and tight corsets…)

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