Thursday, May 12, 2011

George Cruikshank (and Richard Armitage)

by Karen V. Wasylowski

As you all can easily understand, writing, especially writing about an era long gone, requires a good deal of research. Mistakes are made, discovered, denied. But, somewhere during this journey of discovery, through books and Google and the heaven sent Wikipedia, there are things discovered that can startle. Hidden treasures, they are the precious finds that you never would have known about if not for your book.

One of those finds, for me, were the illustrations of George Cruikshank. (He's the second picture)

Geroge Cruikshnk was born in 1792 and lived to be a ripe old eighty five years. During his lifetime he witnessed the madness of King George III, the debauchery of George IV, the Industrial Revolution, the crowning of Victoria, the suffucating morality of the Victorian Age - in short, the best and worst of nineteeth century Britain. He recorded life as he saw it from coal miners to the Royal Court, he was a sort of record keeper of his day, the founder of pictorial journalism. Without his sketches we would not have as clear a picture of the era we write about so lovingly. He could be brutally honest or annoyingly preachy, but he was never dull.

Here are a few examples of his great work...

This was a caricature of the future George IV, one of many unflattering ones made by Cruikshank, dancing with the wife of a friend. It shows the abandon of the times, the lack of restraint among the aristocracy. It is dated 1812 and was entitled 'Merrymaking on the Regent's Birthday'

By 1820 he was given a royal bribe of 100 pounds to never again portray the King in any immoral situation. (Censorship of the press has a long and illustrious history.)

The 'Peterloo Masacre' depicted here took place on St. Peter's Field, Manchester, 16 August, 1819. The end of the Napoleanic Wars had resulted in famine, massive unemployment, the hated Corn Laws - all of which fueled a new sort of Political Radicalism. A meeting to voice the people's anger resulted in an attack by soldiers upon the 60,000 to 80,000 participants. As many as seventeen were killed, with 400 to 700 wounded. The caricature by George Cruikshank reads: "Down with 'em! Chop em down my brave boys: give them no quarter they want to take our Beef & Pudding from us! ---- & remember the more you kill the less poor rates you'll have to pay so go at it Lads show your courage & your Loyalty!"

Besides recording in picture form the news events Cruikshank provided us with the visual impressions we have of balls, Vauxhall...

great ladies and earnest suitors...

Nice clothes... this is entitled 'Monstrosity' - wonder if it's for the hats. If he thought these were bizzare he should have seen the William and Catherine's Royal Wedding guests.

He contributed illustrations to many books, including Charles Dickens' work such as Sketches by Boz, the Mudfog Papers and the wonderful Oliver Twist - here we show the Artful Dodger and Fagin.

On 30, December 1871, in a letter to the Times, Cruikshank even claimed credit for much of the plot of Oliver Twist and caused a great controversy.

In the 1840's George decided to mend his ways, he became obsessed with temperance and anti-smoking, contributed the illustrations for the National Temperance Society. He had developed a very keen sense of morality, along with the rest of England under the new rule of Queen Victoria and her very serious husband, Prince Albert. His fanatical change caused a rift between himself and Dickens, who preferred the concept of moderation.

George Cruikshank passed on 1, February, 1878 and was eventually buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. His works are national treasures now, many can be found in the Tate Gallery and both the British and Victoria and Albert Museums. He was a man of strong convictions and great talent leaving behind a monumental legacy of over 10,000illustrations and prints.

Punch magazine, which presumably did not know he also left behind a large illegitimate family, said in its obituary: "There never was a purer, simpler, more straightforward or altogether more blameless man. His nature had something childlike in its transparency."

George, we hardly knew ye...


LucyParker said...

Very cool blog this week, Karen! I've seen Cruickshank's prints, but didn't know his personal story. Do you think he injected a bit of himself into his artwork, you know, it-takes-one-to-know-one recognition? I'm stealing his obit as my own.

Karen Wasylowski said...

I was stunned this showed up again - I thought I lost it when Blogger was taken over by the Bin Laden estate a few days ago. Good to see it again as I worked very hard on this one. Well, harder than I usually do - stealing youtube videos from others.

LucyParker said...

Blogger would let me read it, but wouldn't let me comment. I thought the comment block was from you. I didn't take the hint and persisted until it took my comment. I refuse to take anything on the internet personally, as I know so little how it all works. Happily obtuse, that's me!

But, this was a really good column! Hope others read it, too.

Karen Wasylowski said...

thank you dear. I worked very hard on it - ok not so hard but I had fun with it and then blogger pooped all over me figuratively speaking. I would never never block your comments - you are my only comment. I'll have to have a book give away or something.

Karen Wasylowski said...

No one ever comments on the Richard Armitage photos anymore. odd.