The great names of the 18th and early 19th century in England caricature were those of William Hogarth (1697-1764), James Gillray (1757-1815), Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) and the Cruikshanks, the father Isaac (1756-1811), and his sons Isaac Robert (1789-1856) and George (1792-1878).
Hogarth is regarded as the founder of the English form for satirical art. He was described as graphic satirist and moralist. Hogarth’s comedy was based on observations of character, and the satirical content was based on elaborate and complex allegories [Fig. 1]. He despised the Italian caricatura as trivia distracting from the ideals of art. Hogarth’s pictures illustrate the position of influence that quack held in society. Hogarth highlighted the contemporary practice in which success in the practice of medicine did not always depend on qualifications, but often on patronage and, in the case of the quacks, advertising. Jealousies and enmity existed among the strata of the medical profession, physicians, surgeons, apothecaries and quacks. Hogarth depicted the battle among different levels in practicing medicine in England (physicians, surgeons, apothecaries and quacks).
Thomas Rowlandson, Hogarth’s successor in British caricature produced more than 1300 satirical prints published both as single sheets and as book illustrations, about fifty are of considerable medical interest [Fig. 2]. Rowlandson’s interest in medical themes began with his studies at the Academy of Art which brought him in contact with the Scottish anatomist and physician William Hunter (1718-1783), brother of the famous surgeon John Hunter (1728-1793). Rowlandson’s interest was further developed by his friendship with physician John Wolcot (1738-1819). Wolcot had obtained his medical degree but abandoned medicine for literature and especially in writing satires. Rowlandson’s convivial life and passion for gambling lived a life in debt.
As a young boy, James Gillray worked as a letter-engraver but ran away to join a company of strolling player. His first caricature appeared in 1779. From this time until 1811 he engraved nearly 1200 caricatures, a number of which were of medical interest. In his latter years he had many bouts of ill health, and his obsessive anxiety about failing eyesight was reflected in prints and drawings. He was known as a heavy drinker all his life. From 1811, he was subject to fits of madness, and spent his last two years confined to the attic above the print-shop. [Fig. 3]
The Cruikshank family is represented by three caricaturists, the Scottish father Isaac and his sons, Isaac Robert and George. The father Isaac was a contemporary of James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson, and he was part of what has been called “The Golden Age of British Caricature”. He was etcher and engraver, and a first-rate water colour draughtsman. His son Isaac Robert, sometimes known as Robert, was also illustrator and portrait miniaturist. Robert with George collaborated on a series of “London Character”, in 1827. The well known George was considered the “modern Hogarth” during his life [Fig. 4]. When Gillray became insane in 1811, some of his plates were finished by the young George Cruikshank known as illustrators books and caricaturist. George represented the patient as a helpless victim of the medical profession. In later life George had a palsy that influenced the quality of his work.
English caricaturists were witnesses of the evolution of Medicine with their discoveries and failures from the standpoint of the patient, medicine as seen by the sick. At the same time they were protagonists of the controversial concept on “brain and character”.
Butterfiled W. The medical caricatures of Thomas Rowlandson. Journal of the American Medical Aassociation 224:113-117; 1973
Feaver W. Masters of caricature, form Hogarth and Gillray to Scarfe and Levine. Knopf A.A., New York, 1981
George M. D. Hogarth to Cruikshank: social change and graphic satire. New York, Walker, 1967
Godfrey R. James Gillray. The Art of Caricature. London, Tate Publishing, 2001
Haslam F. Views from the gallery. British Medical Journal 311: 1712-3, 1995
Haslam F. From Hogarth to Rowlandson. Medicine in Art in Eighteenth Century Britain. Liverpool University Press, 1996
Magee H. R. Doctors in satirical prints and cartoons. Medical Journal of Australia 187: 696-700; 2007
Patten R. L. George Cruikshank’s: life, times, and Art. New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, 1992