Exhibition | Biting Wit and Brazen Folly: British Satirical Prints

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on May 5, 2018

Isaac Robert Cruikshank, Dandy Pickpockets, Diving, 1818 hand-colored etching
(Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1974-179-250)

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Now on view in Philadelphia:

Biting Wit and Brazen Folly: British Satirical Prints, 1780s–1830s
Philadelphia Museum of Art, 4 May — 22 August 2018

Printed satirical caricatures were inescapable in London during the 1700s and 1800s. Often lighthearted and cheeky upon first glance, the images could also be mulled over and picked apart at leisure. A bawdy scene or grotesque facial expression instantly amused, while closer study revealed deeper literary or political references. Whether a fashionable dandy or a poor chimney sweep, no one escaped the scrutiny of caricaturists. This exhibition reveals the widespread appeal of caricature in Georgian England and demonstrates the ways in which such images teased and provoked audiences. Featuring over sixty brightly colored etchings from the Museum’s large collection of British satirical prints, it presents images of the everyday with a riot of color and a roar of laughter.

Browse all the works in the exhibition»

Life in London
London in the late 1700s and early 1800s was a chaotic place marked by social upheaval. People of every class—from the chimney sweep to the Duke of Wellington—witnessed dramatic changes all around them. Their struggles and triumphs did not escape the sharp eye of caricaturists, who were quick to distill their follies and successes into humorous yet arresting images.

Fashion Foibles
In the 1700s and 1800s, innovations in British textile production, along with increased travel between England and France, contributed to a boom in new fashions for both men and women. Caricaturists delighted in exaggerating trendy cinched waists, high collars, and big beards and lampooning the blind following of these fads. In their images, dresses become impossibly large, elaborate headpieces swallow the wearer, and common sense is thrown by the wayside in pursuit of youth and beauty.

Fiendish Ailments & Dubious Doctors
Health and hygiene in London in the late 1700s and early 1800s were dismal. In a city lacking effective medicine and an adequate sewage system, disease was rampant. Because illness was a devastating reality for all classes, it became a fitting subject for satirical artists. Caricatures confronted the corruption of quack doctors and the public’s obsession with cure-all potions. They also made light of common illnesses like gout and colic while showing the darker side of living under physical and mental distress.

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