V&A Acquires Long-Hidden Volume of Gillray Prints

Posted in the 18th century in the news by Editor on December 17, 2009

From a press release from the UK’s Ministry of Justice, as reported by artdaily.org, 16 December 2009:

James Gillray, "Fashionable Contrasts", or the "Duchess’s Little Shoe Yielding to the Magnitude of the Duke’s Foot", etching, 1792 ©V&A Images.

An album of 40 ‘suppressed’ cartoons by leading British caricaturist James Gillray (1756-1815) has recently come to light in the Criminal Law Policy Unit of the Ministry of Justice. It features material judged socially unacceptable in the 19th century – including explicitly sexual, scatological and politically outrageous subject matter. The album [of etchings] was probably seized by police more than a century ago as ‘pornographic material’ and handed to Government officials. This slim volume of ‘Curiosa’ has now been transferred to the print collections of the V&A.

In the 1840s Gillray’s plates were acquired by an enterprising publisher, Henry Bohn, who re-issued the caricatures both as single sheets and in large bound volumes. In the narrow moral climate of early Victorian London, Bohn could not publish all the Gillray plates and so printed those considered offensive in much smaller numbers and made them available from his establishment clandestinely.

It is one of these clandestine volumes which has now been rediscovered. Initially preserved by the department then dealing with vice and pornography at the Home Office, it recently came to light in the Ministry of Justice. The folio joins one held by the V&A since 1869, containing around 500 caricatures. Both folios can be seen in the V&A’s Prints and Drawings Study Room. . . .

For the rest of the article, click here»

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Coverage can also be found in the London Times and the Guardian (the latter includes a terrific photograph of the curator Stephen Calloway with the folio volume).

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