The golden age of satire?

Late-Georgian satirical prints


 A British Museum Spotlight Loan



12 October 2019 – 12 January 2020


The Georgian-era boom town that was Whitehaven existed within a world of increasing public and political dissent. The British Museum’s spotlight loan collection of Georgian satirical sketches sit centre stage in this exploration of early satire during the Georgian era.

The exhibition will be officially launched on Friday 18 October, by Ian Hislop and Tom Hockenhull, who will be in conversation at a special sold out event.

The first modern political caricatures were invented in Britain during the long-eighteenth century, often referred to as the ‘golden age’ of satire. Following the British Museum’s major 2018 exhibition sponsored by Citi, I Object: Ian Hislop’s search for dissent (see video below) this partnership Spotlight loan explores how a small group of printmakers – Gillray, Cruikshank, Rowlandson and Newton – mercilessly skewered the worst excesses of the British monarchy between about 1790 and 1820.

Set against a febrile atmosphere of reform, revolution and war, these prints held a mirror to a dysfunctional and deeply unpopular institution. Highlights include James Gillray’s much imitated Fashionable Contrasts (1792), an outrageously provocative satire that summons thoughts of the utmost vulgarity, entirely through the size and angle of two pairs of shoes.  A generation later, in 1812, George Cruikshank depicted the Prince of ‘Whales’ as a bloated cetacean wallowing in the ‘sea of politics’.

Such disrespectful images were greeted with uproar and apprehension by the establishment, jittery owing to events unfolding in France. There, the destruction of the Bourbon monarchy had begun through a campaign of public mockery leading to a saying, ‘ridicule kills’. A French print from the period illustrates the point. In Britain the monarchy felt genuinely wounded by such mockery, while the government tried, usually unsuccessfully, to threaten and bribe the printmakers into silence.

Tom Hockenhull, curator of this Spotlight loan said, ‘these prints are clever, dangerously subversive and viciously funny. I’m delighted that they will be shared with a wider audience through this National Programmes tour exhibition. They provide a rich and complex source of information about the period, and I look forward to seeing how the Beacon Museum approaches the material.’

The exhibition will travel to three UK venues from May 2019 until January 2020; Pontefract Museum, West Yorkshire, Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire and Beacon Museum, Whitehaven.

Generously supported by the Dorset Foundation.

Visitor Information

Located in the Light & Dark Gallery (Level 4)

Free access for Copeland Pass members runs until 31 December 2019.

Standard admission otherwise applies.

Suitable for all ages, although some mild adult themes may be visible within the collection.

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