27 September 1792, the caricaturist and book illustrator George Cruikshank was born in London.
“There must be no smiling with Cruikshank. A man who does not laugh outright is a dullard, and has no heart; even the old dandy of sixty must have laughed at his own wondrous grotesque image, as they say Louis Philippe did, who saw all the caricatures that were made of himself. And there are some of Cruikshank's designs which have the blessed faculty of creating laughter as often as you see them.“ (William Makepeace Thackeray)
|Mocking the Dandy: “Monstrosities of 1818“|
It is hard to find a satirist who was able to anatomise the grievances of his life and times with a deadly pen like William Hogarth did during the first half of the 18th – hard, but not impossible. George Cruikshank, a hundred years later, was celebrated in his day already as the modern Hogarth as if he was born to it. In fact he was. As the son of the caricaturist Isaac Cruikshank, George probably learned to abstract grim reality into an overdrawn grotesque before he was out of his diapers. And since Cruikshank’s grandfather was an etcher as well, George took up the trade and allegedly surpassed them all. In fact, his firsts caricatures went around when he was 14 and tackled the topic of Nelson’s funeral in January 1806. A couple of years later, when social conditions in England went from bad to worse for many, his caricatures became something to be reckoned with on a political level.
|Harassing Prinny: "Merry Making on the Regent's Birth Day 1812"|
Cruikshank already had made a name for himself during the war with his caricatures of Napoleon and his slow decline when he turned his attention to domestic politics. Cruikshank was, like many other satirists, a man of very strict morals and the contrast of the passion for grandeur of the Regency era’s haute-volée, including Prinny’s himself, to millions who lost their means of existence, quite obviously made him sick and he drew and etched for all it was worth, depicting the Peterloo Massacre as well as Prinny’s excesses with caustic wit and great skill and sometimes even major slips, like an ugly, racist caricature of an abolitionist meeting. Allegedly, the court tried to bribe him with 100 pounds to cease at least poking fun at his Royal Majesty on a continuous basis, but in contrast to another famous caricaturist, James Gilray, he didn’t take the money and just carried on being veritable and unbearable until 1820, when a personal interview with Prinny, who just had become King Georg IV, ended Cruikshank’s lèse majesté.
|One of Cruikshank's illustrations for Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist"|
By the late 1830s Cruikshank teamed up with another great moralist, Charles Dickens, and illustrated “Boz”, “Mufdog Papers” and “Oliver Twist” and continued with Grimm’s Fairytales, “Don Quixote” and Walter Scott’s “Waverley”. His father Isaac had drunk himself to an early grave and during the midst of his life, Cruikshank quitted drink, joined the temperance movement and fell out with Dickens who did not quite share his views on spirituous beverages. Cruikshank himself became more and more quaint and self-opinionated, up to the point that he wrote a letter to the “Times”, shortly after Dickens’ death in 1870, claiming that the idea for the plot of “Oliver Twist” was actually his. Getting more and more ill, the quality of his artistic output suffered with him and he made his last etching three years before his death in 1878, when his veracity bordering on being Puritanism was finally exhausted.
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