Caricatures: Napoleonic & Georgian Social & Political Satire at Bloomsbury

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LONDON, Maddox Street—200 years after the Battle of Waterloo and the death of James Gillray, Bloomsbury Auctions celebrate political and social cartoons with their auction of Napoleonic & Georgian Social and Political Satire. The sale on Thursday 25th June at Bloomsbury House, London, includes the studiously compiled collection of Lord Baker, which takes the buyer on a visual, chronological tour through the Napoleonic era.

Long known for his fascination for, and expertise in, the English caricature, Lord Baker’s comprehensive Napoleon collection opens the sale with the earliest appearances of Napoleon in English caricature, both by Isaac Cruikshank, who had clearly never actually seen his subject [Lots 1 & 2].

Many are still very funny to modern sensibilities, such as James Gillray's comparison of a French gentleman of the court and one of the revolution, the latter inviting the former to 'baiser mon cul' [Lot 10, estimate £400-600], or Rowlandson's The Dunghill Cock and Game Pullet, full of bawdy double entendres [Lot 72, estimate £300-500].

But others carry much weightier purpose, such as Gillray's Consequences of a Successful French Invasion [Lot 4, estimate £1,000-1,500], commissioned to illustrate propaganda pamphlets as conflict loomed.

When the threat of invasion became far more real, in 1803, Gillray produced the first of a wave of caricatures aimed at encouraging new volunteers, including French Invasion or Buonaparte Landing in Great Britain [Lot 24, £800-1,200].  This supreme master of the art produced the apotheosis of English satires of the period, The Plumb-pudding in Danger two years later [Lot 51, estimate £3,000-5,000], which graphically depicts Pitt and Napoleon carving up the world between them. 

The catalogue's narrative theme takes us through the major events of the era via individual prints, many group lots, and occasional published series, such as Gillray's Egyptian Sketches from 1799 [Lot 8, estimate £2,000-3,000], and Cruikshank's series of versions of Russian caricatures from 1813 [Lot 82, estimate £1,000-1,500]. Napoleon's marriages, exile and escape from Elba, eventual defeat at Waterloo, and final banishment to St Helena are all comprehensively covered.

The second half of the catalogue provides an excellent insight into the role of caricature and satire in Georgian England [Lots 112-214], including observations on the fashions of the period such as George Cruikshank's Monstrosities of Fashion [Lots 116 & 148] and the occasional deviation into French haute caricature courtesy of Godissart de Cari's illustrations for Martinet's Musée Grotesque [Lots 115, 125 & 186].

Thomas Rowlandson is handsomely represented throughout this section, including many of the etchings relating to the infamous Westminster Election of 1784 [Lots 168-171] that helped cement his reputation as a satirist, alongside fabulous original Rowlandson watercolours [Lots 129-132], a splendid print depicting a French dancing master and his family [Lot 196, estimate £600-800], and an extremely rare complete set of his etchings for Woodward's Matrimonial Comforts [Lot 197, estimate £4,000-6,000], illustrating the joys of married life...

For purveyors of pugilistic prints this sale also offers two of the earliest examples of sporting journalism with boxing broadsides illustrated by Gillray [Lots 180 & 181, both estimated at £300-500]. 

One of the more curious highlights of this sale is an album of watercolour landscapes by Joseph Crawhall II [Lot 126, estimate £3,000-4,000]; more known for his 'quaint cuts in the chap book style', the use of lighting and vivid colour for these landscapes perhaps prefigures the work of Crawhall’s son, the Glasgow Boys, and British artists working in the early part of the 20th century.

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