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Portrait of George Cruikshank
Wood engraving published in Harper's Weekly newspaper (16 March 1878)

George Cruikshank (27 September 1792 – 1 February 1878) was a British caricaturist and book illustrator, praised as the "modern Hogarth" during his life. His book illustrations for Charles Dickens - who was his friend - and many other authors reached an international audience.


Early life

A young George Cruikshank.

Cruikshank was born on 27 September 1792 in London. His father, Isaac Cruikshank, was one of the leading caricaturists of the late 1790’s and Cruikshank started his career as his father's apprentice and assistant.

His older brother, Isaac Robert, also followed in the family business as a caricaturist and illustrator. Cruikshank's early work was caricature; but in 1823, at the age of 31, he started to focus on book illustration.

On October 16, 1827, he married Mary Ann Walker (1807-1849). Two years after her death, on March 7, 1851, he married Eliza Widdison. The two lived at 263 Hampstead Road, North London.

Sociopolitical caricatures and illustrations

Cruikshank's early career was renowned for his social caricatures of English life for popular publications. He achieved early success collaborating with William Hone in his political satire The Political House That Jack Built (1819). His first major work was Pierce Egan's Life in London (1821). This was followed by The Comic Almanack (1835-1853) and Omnibus (1842).

Merry Making on the Regent's Bithday 1812
Old Bumblehead the 18th trying on Napoleon Boots 1823

His gained notoriety with his political prints that attacked the royal family and leading politicians. In 1820 he received a royal bribe of £100 for a pledge "not to caricature His Majesty" (George IV of the United Kingdom) "in any immoral situation". His work included a personification of England named John Bull who was developed from about 1790 in conjunction with other British satirical artists such as James Gillray, and Thomas Rowlandson. [1]

Cruikshank replaced one of his major influences, James Gillray, as England's most popular satirist. For a generation he delineated Tories, Whigs and Radicals impartially. Satirical material came to him from every public event—wars abroad, the enemies of Britain (he was highly patriotic), the frolic, among other qualities, such as the weird and terrible, in which he excelled. His hostility to enemies of Britain and a crude racism is evident in his illustrations commissioned to accompany William Maxwell's History of the Irish rebellion in 1798 (1845) where his lurid depictions of incidents in the rebellion were characterised by the simian-like portrayal of Irish rebels. Among the other racially engaged works of Cruikshank there were caricatures about the "legal barbarities" of the Chinese, the subject given by his friend, Dr. W. Gourley, a participant in the ideological battle around the Arrow War, 1856-60.

Fagin in his cell.
Copperplate engraving, 1838

Charles Dickens

For Charles Dickens, Cruikshank illustrated Sketches by Boz (1836), The Mudfog Papers (1837–38) and Oliver Twist (1838). Cruikshank even acted in Dickens' amateur theatrical company.

On 30 December 1871 Cruikshank published a letter in The Times which claimed credit for much of the plot of Oliver Twist. The letter launched a fierce controversy around who created the work. Cruikshank was not the first Dickens' illustrator to make such a claim. Robert Seymour who illustrated the Pickwick Papers suggested that the idea for that novel was originally his; however, in his preface to the 1867 edition, Dickens strenuously denied any specific input.

The friendship between Cruikshank and Dickens soured further when Cruikshank became a fanatical teetotaler in opposition to Dickens' views of moderation.


In the late 1840s, Cruikshank's focus shifted from book illustration to an obsession with temperance and anti-smoking. Formerly a heavy drinker, he now supported, lectured to, and supplied illustrations for the National Temperance Society and the Total Abstinence Society among others. The best known of these are The Bottle, 8 plates (1847), with its sequel, The Drunkard's Children, 8 plates (1848), with the ambitious work, The Worship of Bacchus, published by subscription after the artist's oil painting, now in the National Gallery, London. For his efforts he was made vice president of the National Temperance League in 1856.

Later years

After developing palsy in later life, Cruikshank's health and work began to decline in quality. He died on 1 February 1878 and was originally buried in Kensal Green Cemetery. In November 1878 his remains were exhumed and reburied in St. Paul's Cathedral.[2] Punch magazine said in its obituary: "There never was a purer, simpler, more straightforward or altogether more blameless man. His nature had something childlike in its transparency."

In his lifetime he created nearly 10,000 prints, illustrations, and plates. Collections of his works are in the British and the Victoria and Albert museums.

Samples of his work

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman



  1. ^ Gatrell, Vic. City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London. New York: Walker & Co., 2006
  2. ^ [1] Cruikshank's Grave Site on The Victorian Web

Further reading

  • Cruikshank, George. (1980). Graphic Works of George Cruikshank. Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-23438-X
  • Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, Mary Dorothy George. Vol VI 1938, Vol VII, 1942 VOL VIII 1947, VOL IX 1949
  • Dictionary of British Cartoonists and caricaturists 1730-1980 Bryant and Heneage, Scolar Press 1994
  • The Book Illustrations of George Cruikshank Buchanan-Brown, John. Charles Tuttle 1980
  • George Cruikshank A Catalogue Raisonne of the work executed during the years 1896-1977 Cohn, Albert M . Bookmans Journal, London 1924

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

GEORGE CRUIKSHANK (1792-1878), English artist, caricaturist and illustrator, was born in London on the 27th of September 1792. By natural disposition and collateral circumstances he may be accepted as the type of the born humoristic artist predestined for this special form of art. His grandfather had taken up the arts, and his father, Isaac Cruikshank, followed the painter's profession. Amidst these surroundings the children were born and brought up, their first playthings the materials of the arts their father practised. George followed the family traditions with amazing facility, easily surpassing his compeers as an etcher. When the father died, about 1811, George, still in his teens, was already a successful and popular artist. All his acquisitions were native gifts, and of home-growth; outside training, or the serious apprenticeship to art, were dispensed with, under the necessity of working for immediate profit. This lack of academic training the artist at times found cause to regret, and at some intervals he made exertions to cultivate the knowledge obtainable by studying from the antique and drawing from life at the schools. From boyhood he was accustomed to turn his artistic talents to ready account, disposing of designs and etchings to the printsellers, and helping his father in forwarding his plates. Before he was twenty his spirited style and talent had secured popular recognition; the contemporary of Gillray, Rowlandson, Alken, Heath, Dighton, and the established caricaturists of that generation, he developed great proficiency as an etcher. Gillray's matured and trained skill had some influence upon his executive powers, and when the older caricaturist passed away in 1815, George Cruikshank had already taken his place as a satirist. Prolific and dexterous beyond his competitors, for a generation he delineated Tories, Whigs and Radicals with fine impartiality. Satirical capital came to him from every public event, wars abroad, the enemies of England (for he was always fervidly patriotic), the camp, the court, the senate, the Church; low life, high life; the humours of the people, the follies of the great. In this wonderful gallery the student may grasp the popular side of most questions which for the time being engaged public attention. George Cruikshank's technical and manipulative skill as an etcher was such that Ruskin and the best judges have placed his productions in the foremost rank; in this respect his works have been compared favourably with the masterpieces of etching. He died at 263 Hampstead Road on the 1st of February 1878. His remains rest in St Paul's cathedral.

A vast number of Cruikshank's spirited cartoons were published as separate caricatures, all coloured by hand; others formed series, or were contributed to satirical magazines, the Satirist, Town Talk, The Scourge (1811-1816) and the like ephemeral publications. In conjunction with William Hone's scathing tracts, G. Cruikshank produced political satires to illustrate the series of facetiae and miscellanies, like The Political House that Jack Built (1819) .

Of a more genially humoristic order are his well-known book illustrations, now so deservedly esteemed for their inimitable fun and frolic, among other qualities, such as the weird and terrible, in which he excelled. Early in this series came The Humorist (1819-1821) and Life Paris (1822). The well-known series of Life in London, conjointly produced by the brothers I. R. and G. Cruikshank, has enjoyed a prolonged reputation, and is still sought after by collectors. Grimm's Collection of German Popular Stories (1824-1826), in two series, with 22 inimitable etchings, are in themselves sufficient to account for G. Cruikshank's reputation. To the first fourteen volumes (1837-1843) of Bentley's Miscellany Cruikshank contributed 126 of his best plates, etched on steel, including the famous illustrations to Oliver Twist, Jack Sheppard, Guy Fawkes and The Ingoldsby Legends. For W. Harrison Ainsworth, Cruikshank illustrated Rookwood (1836) and The Tower of London (1840); the first six volumes of Ainsworth's Magazine (1842-1844) were illustrated by him with several of his finest suites of etchings. For C. Lever's Arthur O'Leary he supplied io full-page etchings (1844), and 20 spirited graphic etchings for Maxwell's lurid History of 1798 (1845). Of his own speculations, mention must be made of George Cruikshank's Omnibus (1841) and George Cruikshank's Table Book (1845), as well as his Comic Almanack (1835-1853). The Life of Sir John Falstaff contained 20 full-page etchings (1857-1858). These are a few leading items amongst the thousands of illustrations emanating from that fertile imagination. As an enthusiastic teetotal advocate, G. Cruikshank produced a long series of pictures and illustrations, pictorial pamphlets and tracts; the best known of these are The Bottle, 8 plates (1847), with its sequel, The Drunkard's Children, 8 plates (1848), with the ambitious work, The Worship of Bacchus, published by subscription after the artist's oil painting, now in the National Gallery, London, to which it was presented by his numerous admirers.

See Cruikshank's Water-Colours, with introduction by Joseph Grego (London, 1903). (J. Go.*)

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