The Age of Caricature

Satirical Prints in the Reign of George III

Diana Donald

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The late eighteenth century in England was the first great age of cartooning, and English caricature prints of the period have long been enjoyed for their humor and vitality. Now Diana Donald presents the first major study of these caricatures, which challenges many assumptions about them. She shows that they were a widely disseminated form of political expression and propaganda as subtle and eloquent as the written word.

Donald analyzes the meanings of the prints, applying current perspectives on the eighteenth century about the changing roles of women and constructions of gender, the alleged rise of a consumer society, the growth of political awareness outside aristocratic circles, and the problems of defining "class" values in the later Georgian era. She discusses, for example, the social position of the Georgian satirist within the hierarchy of high and low art production; the relation between the shifting styles of political prints and the antagonisms of different political cultures; caricatures of fashion as expressions of ambivalent attitudes to luxury and "high society"; treatment of the crowd in the prints and the light this sheds on the myth of the freeborn Englishman; and what caricatures reveal about British reactions to the French Revolution in the 1790s. Donald concludes by describing the demise of the Georgian satirical print in the early nineteenth century, which she attributes in part to the new and urgent political purposes of radicals in the post-Napoleonic era. Illustrated with works by Gillray, Rowlandson, and other artists, many of which have never been published before, the book will be an enlightening and enjoyable reference for scholars and the general reader.

Diana Donald is professor of art history and head of the department of history of art and design at the Manchester Metropolitan University. 

"A stunning book. . . . An important contribution to historical judgments. . . . The book will appeal not just to the scholar but also to the general reader, and I hope it will reawaken interest in one of the greatest periods in English history."—Kenneth Baker, The Daily Telegraph

"A superbly illustrated history of the era when Gillray and Rowlandson, and lesser but still brilliant artists, portrayed with an amusing ferocity the foibles of the time and the failures of its politicians."—Kenneth Baker, The Daily Telegraph

"Others will find it a hard act to follow."—John Wardoper, Custom Art News

"Fascinating. . . . Indispensable reading for all those who have already developed an interest in the subject."—David Alexander, The Art Newspaper

"An absorbing glimpse into English politics of that time. . . . An indispensable guide to these comic masterpieces, and one that will be hard to improve upon."—Edward Sorel, New York Times Book Review

"In The Age of Caricature, with its fine illustrations, in colour and black and white, a marvellous picture is given of the prints shops themselves, and their other function which was to teach drawing to wealthy amateurs. Every conceivable twist and turn to the development and gradual demise of the Georgian satirical print is covered and the book will become a classic."—Richard Edmonds, Birmingham Post

"A handsomely produced volume with 210 illustrations, The Age of Caricature is the first to apply intensively to the graphic satire of the Hanoverian era the crossover techniques by which art history and social and political history have lately been made to illuminate one another."—Richard D. Altick, Times Literary Supplement

"Donald's handsome, intelligent text instructs readers in ideographic language and thus, in how to interpret its more than 200 prints as contemporaries might have done. Donald brings her discipline's perspective to a subject formerly the province of social historians. Reading prints for other than their political content and function, Donald analyzes the artistic character of the illustrated imagery of Hogarth, Gilray, et al., 'to construe the artistic as political.' The result is useful analytical tools and a richer understanding of Georgian caricature."—Choice

"This is a fascinating book, beautifully illustrated and well written."—Contemporary Review

"[Donald] has done much to revitalize the study of graphic satire and bring it from the margins to the very heart of the ongoing reassessment of eighteenth-century British visual culture."—Neil McWilliam, Art History

"What has been missing in the last thirty years is a critical and scholarly overview of the origins and history of the great explosion of English satirical prints in the second half of the eighteenth century. Donald's handsome and amply illustrated The Age of Caricature fills this need magnificently."—Katherine Hart, Inks

"This book is a must for teachers who want to understand the nature of political and social caricature between 1760 and 1820 and what a wonderfully illustrated book it is. Great reading for A Level students who want to get away from textbooks and a delight for their teachers."—Margaret Brown, Teaching History

"This work fills a void in the study of Georgian caricature, and does so in a scholarly, readable and, of course, visually entertaining manner."—Martyn J. Powell, British Journal for 18th Century Studies

Diana Donald is the co-recipient of the Historians of British Art 1998 award for books published in 1996 in an area outside Victorian art
ISBN: 9780300071788
Publication Date: February 17, 1998
Publishing Partner: Published for the Paul Mellon Center for Studies in British Art
256 pages, 8 1/2 x 11
183 b/w + 27 color illus.

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