web stats

CSBG Archive

Stars of Political Cartooning – George Cruikshank

Each day this month I will be profiling a notable political cartoonist. Since the choices are vast, I’ve decided to slim the numbers down a bit and eliminate living cartoonists. Perhaps I will do a current political cartoon stars in the future.

Here‘s an archive of the artists mentioned already.

Today we look at a notable British political cartoonist who is most famous for his non-political work with a legendary British author.


George Cruikshank was born in 1792 into an artistic family. His father, Isaac Cruikshank, was a notable painter and caricaturist, and George soon took up the “family business,” as it were.

When he was still in his teens, Cruikshank would visit the preeminent caricaturist of the day, James Gillray, at his apartment and try to learn from him. Sadly, by this time, Gillray was very much insane. Still, Cruikshank must have taken SOMEthing out of these encounters, because he soon embarked on a series of political prints that were much in keeping with Gillray’s style.

Cruikshank would take on the British Crown with some mockery, but unlike Gillray, most of Cruikshank’s barbs would be sent outwards, to the enemies of the Crown (Gillray also had a patriotic streak, don’t get me wrong, I just mean that Cruikshank had a much higher proportion of patriotic pieces than did Gillray).

Here, Cruikshank mocks Napoleon quite well, who Cruikshank has termed “Boney”…

Cruikshank goes particularly low brow here, illustrating how Napoleon’s campaign has “gone to pot”…

In an case of events foretelling the future, here, Cruikshank demonstrates how Napoleon’s attempts to go into Russia ended up ruining his campaign (much like it would ruin Hitler’s campaign over a hundred years later)….

Do note how the Russians are depicted – that is a common trait in Cruikshank’s work…

With Napoleon out of the way, Cruikshank THEN set his sights on British society, particularly its high society.

Here, he mocks the excesses of the day by depicting all the ridiculous outfits people wore and how it would cramp a room (most of these outfits had, by this time, actually been banned, but still, it’s a good gag)…

Cruikshank does a particularly good job here depicting how “societal change” is, to high society, a terrifying monster…

This is a nice little parody of society by showing the servants of the rich imitating their masters…

Next, in a nice little bit of googly eyes, Cruikshank mocks the high prices at the British theatres…

While George III was the most prominent butt of Gillray’s pieces, George IV was Cruikshank’s main target…

Here is George dancing with another man’s wife…

The British Crown ended up actually bribing Cruikshank to not mock George III, so I suppose that’s why George IV got the rough end of it the most.

Here’s a particularly Gillray-ian depiction of disease as “demons”

Cruikshank was such a patriot that he would often go a bit overboard with his depictions of those that were enemies of the crown.

The Americans got it easy, they were just depicted as cowards…

Any rebels, though, were treated like they were filthy animals…

One of his most famous works was illustrating William Maxwell’s History of the Irish rebellion in 1798 (published in 1845).

In it, the Irish were barely even humans…


In many ways, Cruikshank was also a modern successor to not only Gillray, but to William Hogarth, as well.

Like Hogarth, he spoke out against the evils of alcohol…

And like Hogarth, he became known for his storytelling abilities, as late in his career, he got out of editorial cartooning and began doing book illustrations, which is how he might be most known today, for he illustrated a couple of Charles Dickens’ novels, most famously, Oliver Twist…

George Cruikshank died in 1878, at the extremely old age (for the time) of 86.

By the by, apparently JK Rowling used his name for Hermione’s cat in the Harry Potter series (the cat is named Crookshanks).


Jeremy Cresswell

October 17, 2008 at 2:12 am

What I find interesting is that in the cartoons of societal change and rebels is that the peasants/rebels are portrayed as French. The guillotine and the rebels are wearing Maryanne caps (a common symbol of the French in cartoons) and the tricolour of the revolution. The horrors of the French revolution certainly scared the British aristocracy and Cruikshank has used that fear very effectively.
Once again the Irish are portrayed as subhuman smoking their obligitory clay pipes (a common symbol of the Irish in cartoons) and drinking to excess. Sigh, the sad thing is that you can still see that in cartoons to this day.

I have a framed 2 salvaged pages titled “Song of the Months” taken from the 1st annual edition of “G Cruikshank’s Table Book” (damaged/ unrepairable). It is a WOOCUT printed on pulpwood paper. the print was among 12 steel engravings, 116 woodcuts, short stories, essays and poems. Printed by Bradbury & Evans, Whitefriars; published at the Punch office, 92 Fleet St London, 1845. The book was based on a popular magazine of the day.
Is it of interest to anyone versed in this era of cartoonery????

Fantastique artist. I also do caricatures: http://caricature.fr

Leave a Comment



Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives