George Cruikshank

(27 September 1792 - 1 February 1878)

Born in London, son of an English caricaturist. Upon his father's death, in order to support his family, he became his successor. He received no instruction in art. His first work was a series of political caricatures, many of them relating to the trial of Queen Caroline, in 1820 and '21. His illustrations of Pierce Egan's Life in London and Grimm's Fairy Tales, a few years later, first brought him decided popular recognition. The amount of work of this kind which he has done is enormous; among the better known are Dickens' Sketches by "Boz" and Oliver Twist, The Tower of London, Jack Shepherd, Waverley Novels, British Novelist, and Life of Grimaldi. In 1842, he published the famous series of eight temperance prints, entitled the "Gin Bottle," quickly followed by the "Gin Trap," the "Gin Juggernaut," "Sunday in London," and others.

He did not paint in oil until late in life, and has exhibited at the British Institute and the Royal Academy, at different seasons, "Tetania and Bottom", "Merry Wives of Windsor", "Cinderella", "Tam O'Shanter", "The Fairy Ring", Grimaldi Shaving", "The Worship of Bacchus", "Disturbing the Congregation", (belonging to the late Prince Albert), and a few more. A collection of his works of every description was on exhibition in London in 1876, from his drawing when a boy of eight years to his last production; a remarkable display of the labors of one man, showing the wide range of his subjects and the versatility of his genius. His "Worship of Bacchus" is in the National Gallery, London.

"Cruikshank's 'Noah Claypole,' in the illustrations to Oliver Twist, in the interview with the Jew, is, however, still more characteristic. It is the intensest rendering of vulgarity, absolute and utter, with which I am acquainted... Among the reckless losses of the right service of intellectual power with which this century must be charged, very few are, to my mind, more to be regretted than that which is involved in its having turned to no higher purpose than the illustration of the career of Jack Shepherd and of the Irish Rebellion, the great graver (I use the word deliberately and with large meaning) and singular genius of Cruikshank." -- Ruskin's Modem Painters.

" 'I think,' said Mr. Dickens, 'the power of that closing scene ["The Bottle"] quite extraordinary. It haunts the remembrance like an awful reality. It is full of passion and terror, and I doubt very much whether any hand but his could so have rendered it.' " -- Forster's Life of Dickens, Vol. II. p. 18.

"In etching of this higher class, Cruikshank carries one great virtue of the art to perfection, its simple frankness. He is so direct and unaffected that only those who know the difficulties of etching can appreciate the power that lies behind his unpretending skill. There is never in his most admirable plates the trace of a vain effort." -- Hamerton's Etching and Etchers.

"Cruikshank's deficient education in art, unremedied by his efforts far on in life, renders his pictures very defective. Particular faults attributed to him, even as a designer, are want of drawing of the human figure, which he is apt to treat with a caricaturist's free and easy, because limp limbs, and vapid, old-fashioned faces, and the tendency to exaggerate and burlesque, that constitute him a caricaturist rather than a humorist. But as a caricaturist he has many and great merits." -- Mrs. Tytler's Modern Painters.

"He has told a thousand truths in as many strange and fantastic ways; he has given a thousand new and pleasant thoughts to millions of people; he has never used his wit dishonestly; he has never, in the exuberance of his frolicsome humor, caused a single painful or guilty blush; how little do we think of the extraordinary power of this man, and how ungrateful we are to him! . . . . Look at one of Mr. Cruikshank's works, and we pronounce him an excellent humorist. Look at all: his reputation is increased by a kind of geometrical progression, as a whole diamond is an hundred times more valuable than the hundred splinters into which it might be broken would be. A fine, rough English diamond is this, about which we have been writing." -- Thackeray, in Westminster Review, June, 1840.

[Artists of the Nineteenth Century & their Work, Biographical Sketches. By Clara Erskine Clement & Laurence Hutton, 1879.]

George Cruikshank, the younger son of Isaac Cruikshank, was bom in London in 1792. Very early in life he had a predilection for the sea, but his mother opposed the wish, and urged his father to instruct him in art. This, however, the father refused; saying, that if George was destined to become an artist, he would find the way without any instruction. The youth applied for admittance into the Royal Academy schools, but was unsuccessful. His father died when he was still very young; and when that event took place, he determined to do his best to support his mother. Some wood blocks which his father had on hand were finished by him, and from that time his employment was secured, and his destiny in life fixed. He was soon engaged in a variety of undertakings. He illustrated with caricatures a monthly periodical called The Scourge, and also one called The Meteor, which he founded in conjunction with a person named Erie. He executed a great deal of this kind of work for Hone, most of whose publications about that time bear the marks of his active pencil. And not only with his pencil did he assist Hone, for to the imagination of the young artist the origin of many of the best political squibs, such as the 'Slap for Slop,' was mainly due. Merely to enumerate the pictorial trifles which that epoch of his career produced, would be an endless task. His was, The Queen's Matrimonial Ladder, The Man in the Moon, and Non mi ricordo -- all squibs referring to the infamous trial of Queen Caroline. A collection of the political caricatures which were published by Cruikshank at this time would furnish a kind of political history of the day, and would even illustrate many of the changes of opinion which prevailed. The first work of any great importance in which Cruikshank bore part was the famous Life in London, the original suggestion of which was due to him alone. The original design was to publish a series of tableaux illustrating the bright side of 'life' in London, and also the reverse. He was ultimately persuaded, however, to develop the idea in collaboration with his brother Robert and Pierce Egan, and the result was that whilst the last-named gentleman derived all the glory of writing one of the most popular books of the time, the wholesome moral which was originally intended was entirely lost sight of. Disgusted with the perversion of his plan, George Cruikshank virtually left the completion of the plates to his brother Robert. After this, Cruikshank illustrated a periodical called The Humourist. In 1823-26. he illustrated with some capital etchings Grimm's German Popular Stories and Fairy Tales; and soon after published a very curious set of comic prints called 'Points of Humour". From this time he was called upon to illustrate many of the most popular works of the day. In 1847, although not at that time a teetotaller, he published a series of eight woodcuts, called 'The Bottle', which were very successful. To this he next year added 'The Drunkard's Children', intended to show the terribly degrading effects of the immoderate use of strong drink. He also published 'Sunday in London', 'The Gin Trap', and 'The Gin Juggernaut', all of which had an immense circulation, and no doubt helped to further the cause of temperance. Whilst he was thus engaged, he was waited upon by some disciples of Father Mathew, who convinced him that 'moderate drinking' was not the best way to aid the temperance movement, and Cruikshank, entering into the movement with all the fervour of a naturally ardent temperament, became a total abstainer.

In his later years George Cruikshank tried oil-painting, but his works in this branch of art are as much caricatures as any etching he ever executed: yet they betray a marvellous power of grotesque humour and deep insight into human nature. His 'Cinderella', painted in 1854, is in the South Kensington Museum, and the last and greatest of his efforts in oil-painting, 'The Worship of Bacchus', painted for the National Temperance League in 1862, is now in the National Gallery. This picture is a crowded and imaginative conception, full of weird fancies, and as a work of art most unsatisfactory. He died in London in 1878, and was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. The following, arranged in chronological order, are the most important of the books which he illustrated with etchings:

Life in London: or the Day and Night scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq., Corinthian Tom, and Bob Logic, in their rambles through the metropolis, by Pierce Egan, with coloured plates by G. and R. Cruikshank. 1821.
Grimm's German Popular Stories, 1824-26.
Hans of Iceland, 1825.
Mornings at Bow Street, 1825.
Grimm's Fairy Tales, 1827.
Punch and Judy, 1828.
John Gilpin, by Cowper, 1828.
The Epping Hunt, 1830.
The Novelist's Library, Edited by T. Roscoe, 1831-32.
My Sketch Book; containing 200 groups, 1833-34.

Thirty-five Illustrations of Don Quixote, in a series of fifteen plates, designed and etched by G. Cruikshank, 1834.
The Comic Almanac, 1835-52.
Sketches by "Boz", Charles Dickens, 1836-37.
Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi, 1838.
Jack Sheppard, 1839.
Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens, 1839.
The Ingoldsby Legends, R. H. Barham, Series i.-iii., 1840-47.
George Cruikshank's Omnibus, Edited by L. Blancliard, 1842.
George Cruikshank's Table Book, Edited by G. A. áBeckett, 1845.
Windsor Castle, 1847.
The Miser's Daughter, 1848.
Three Courses and a Dessert, 1849.
The Loving Ballad of Lord Bateman, 1851.
George Cruikshank's Fairy Library, 1853.
The Tower of London, 1854.
Guy Fawkes; or, the Gunpowder Treason, an historical romance, 1857.

Fuller details may be found in Mr, G, W. Reid's Descriptive Catalogue of the Works of George Cruikshank, published in 1871.

External Link: Romantic Circles published by the University of Maryland. William Makepeace Thackeray on Life in London, (Pierce Egan), Illustrations: Robert and George Cruikshank. Courtesy of The Ohio State University Rare Books and Manuscripts Library.

Isaac Cruikshank was born at Edinburgh in 1756 or 1757. He was the father of Robert Isaac and George Cruikshank. His father had been one of the followers of the Pretender, and had lost his property in that hopeless cause. Isaac first came to London at the close of the last century, and, after the death of his father, tried to gain his living by drawing caricatures. He was the contemporary of Rowlandson and Gillray, and his first published print was one in defence of Pitt in 1796, who was at that time bitterly assailed by Gillray, The greater part of the humorous sketches illustrating the works of Dean Swift, Joe Miller, and John Browne, and published by Messrs, Laurie and Whittle, were by Isaac Cruikshank. He exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1789, 1790, and 1792, and in his water-colour drawings exhibited some talent. He died in London in 1810, or the year following.


Robert Isaac Cruikshank, the elder son of Isaac Cruikshank, was bom in or about 1790, and commenced life as a midshipman on board the East India Company's ship Perseverance. Probably influenced by his brother George's success as a caricaturist and artist, he left the service and practised in water-colours and made comic designs, in which, however, he rarely went beyond mediocrity. He was connected with his brother George in illustrating The Universal Songster, 1828; and Cruikshank at Home, which was followed by a supplementary volume, entitled The Odd Volume, in illustrating which Robert Seymour was associated, Robert I. Cruikshank's best drawings were those made for the illustration of Cumberland's British Theatre and Minor Theatre, His designs on wood were often excellent, but generally spoilt by the engraver. His death occurred in 1856.

Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers in Five Volumes, Vol. I, 1903.