Born in 1756, James Gillray was one of the most renowned and prolific caricaturists of his time. He engraved, etched and printed his works in the printshops of St. James’s and Bond Street. After trying, for a time, to make a living as an independent engraver Gillray formed a lifelong relationship with publisher, Mrs. Hannah Humphrey, who from that time, issued all of his work.
Devoting enormous concentration to his work, Gillray sketched politicians in Parliament and socialites in the coffee houses, preparing highly detailed drawings for his prints. A master of the technique of copperplate printing, Gillray combined engraving and etching to achieve tonal effects. He also employed stippling, aquatint and soft ground etching, creating a high degree of complicity in his printed images.
Gillray’s political prints commonly reflected popular public opinion and his personal views were often subjugated to the needs of the market. Many of his prints were commentaries on the generally negative British view of the French Revolution. After 1796, Gillray employed his satirical talents to defend the politician, George Canning. After 1801 Gillray concentrated on social satire, including fashion. He also continued his anti-Napoleonic cartoons.
Gillray lampooned members of the royal family throughout his career, especially King George III and his son, the Prince of Wales. In 1803 the Prince purchased every one of Gillray’s prints.