Hypochondriacs & Quacks: British Caricatures of Medicine on Exhibit
Tomorrow the Philadelphia Museum of Art opens its new exhibition, Biting Wit and Brazen Folly: British Satirical Prints, 1780s-1830s. Sixty prints showcasing the brilliance of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century graphic satire, especially the work of George Cruikshank, James Gillray, William Heath, and Thomas Rowlandson, will be on display. Organized thematically, the exhibition considers how these caricaturists portrayed the art and fashion of their day. Of particular interest to me is the section devoted to prints of medical subjects, including, for example, Thomas Rowlandson's The Hypochondriac (1788), a dark depiction of mental illness. According to the exhibition's description online, "The preoccupation with disease was an inevitable subject for artists, as illness was prevalent in a modernizing London where medical procedures were still primitive and people were understandably skeptical of the state of knowledge and skill of medical practitioners." Here are three examples that catch the eye and send a chill up the spine:
The Amputation, 1785, by Thomas Rowlandson. Hand-colored etching and aquatint, published in London, England. Purchased by the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the SmithKline Beckman (later the SmithKline Beechman) Corporation Fund, 1982.
A Little Rheum-Atick, 1828, by William Heath. Hand-colored etching, published by Thomas McLean, on 26 Haymarket Street, London, England. Purchased by the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the SmithKline Beckman (later SmithKline Beecham) Fund for the Ars Medica Collection, 1968.
The Gout, 1799, by James Gillray. Hand-colored etching (soft-ground), published by H. Humphrey, 27 St. James's Street, London. Purchased by the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the SmithKline Beckman Corporation Fund, 1949.
The exhibition will be on view through August 22.