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Gillray's Revenge

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James Gillray's Revenge

Famous as a caricaturist, James Gillray also wished to engrave serious subjects. “Having [his] reputation in view,” Gillray approached Boydell indicating his “desire to have some connexion with a work which seems so strongly to demand public patronage.” He requested a commission to engrave a painting of “intrinsic merit” by James Northcote, currently underway, but Boydell refused. Gillray took his revenge through satiric prints, two of which are featured in the exhibition.

James Gillray. The monster broke loose, or a peep into the Shakespeare gallery. Print, 1791

Because Boydell rejected Gillray’s request to engrave James Northcote’s painting, Gillray turned his skills as a caricaturist on Boydell. After a vandal damaged several paintings at Boydell’s gallery, Gillray suggests in this satirical print that it was a publicity stunt. Gillray’s Boydell carefully cuts only the cheapest paintings to replace and imagines charging a fee to see the “cut pictures.”


Alderman Boydell stands central in this satire (seen at right) as Prospero burning his books. Out of the smoke appear characters from gallery paintings—Bottom, the dead Cardinal Beaufort, Puck, Lear, the dead Cordelia, Claudius, the infant Edward (future Edward V) at his mother’s breast—as Gillray skewers not just Boydell, but the artists who work for him. Behind “subscribers to the sacrifice,” Hamlet’s grave-digger indicates the Gallery’s grave.



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James Gillray. Letter to John Boydell. Manuscript, 30 September 1788

James Gillray. Shakespeare Sacrificed; or The Offering to AVARICE. Hand-colored etching, 1789

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