CRUIKSHANK, GEORGE (1792–1878), English artist.
George Cruikshank is now remembered, if at all, for his work as illustrator of two early works by Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz (1836) and Oliver Twist (1837–1838). Cruikshank, by the time of those collaborations well known as a caricaturist and illustrator of classic and contemporary literature, saw his own role in the production of such texts devalued as Dickens's reputation soared, and he felt compelled, especially in the last years of his life and after Dickens's death in 1870, to spend much of his time campaigning for the respect and honor he believed were his due. By the 1870s, however, the notion that the creators of the verbal and visual elements of a text should be considered collaborators rather than superior and subordinate was only rarely accepted.
Cruikshank's father, Isaac (1764–1811), and his older brother, Isaac Robert (1789–1856; often known simply as Robert), were also artists. The father, an increasingly popular caricaturist who never quite gave up on a career in more respected art genres such as watercolor and oil, died from the consequences of a drinking match and left George the principal breadwinner in the family before he turned twenty. The brother, for a time considered to be George's peer, became from about 1840 a virtual unknown.
Cruikshank's caricatures of King George IV's dissolute life, both during the period when he was prince regent (1810–1820) and after his assumption of the throne at George III's death on 29 January 1820, were disturbing enough to warrant attempts by emissaries from the royals to buy up those works that were most disturbing and also in June 1820 to bribe the artist with a payment of £100 to desist from any further productions that depicted the new king in "any immoral situation." The caricatures, however, continued to appear, especially in reference to the king's fight to prevent his estranged wife, Princess Caroline of Brunswick, from becoming queen after her arrival in England in June 1820. The new king initiated divorce proceedings, and a flood of caricatures and pamphlets appeared, weighing in on the matter. Cruikshank, working with the publisher William Hone, produced
some of the most devastating to the king's side of the dispute, notably The Queen's Matrimonial Ladder, but he also produced at least one powerful image damaging to the queen's cause. Cruikshank's images from 1810 to 1830 mocking Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington, and a vast array of hypocritical and pretentious behaviors and fashions often deserved the term the artist's brother Robert used to describe the woodcuts done with Hone on this occasion, "Gunpowder in Boxwood."
From the mid-1820s Cruikshank's energies went mainly to book illustration. Many significant figures in the literary and critical world such as the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray would later remember vividly how their first experiences of many influential texts were emphatically shaped by their association with Cruikshank's illustrations. The art critic John Ruskin remembered Cruikshank's copperplate etchings for an English translation of the brothers Grimm's fairy tale collection as "the finest things, next to Rembrandt's" since the invention of the art.
Although Cruikshank never left the British Isles for more than a day trip, Continental audiences were familiar with his work, and it was not unusual for critics throughout Europe to refer to an artist from their own land as the Cruikshank of their own country or region. Henry Monnier, Honoré Daumier, Gustave Doré, and Paul Gavarni were some of the French artists mentioned in this way, or who themselves acknowledged Cruikshank's influence. Cruikshank's own vanity prevented him from acknowledging the undeniable ways in which his style derived in some cases from these same artists.
From 1847 on, Cruikshank, publicly renouncing the signature drunken rowdiness of his first fifty years, worked hard in the temperance cause. Two suites of powerful plates, The Bottle (1847) and The Drunkard's Children (1848), depicted the gradual destruction of a happy family through the insidious progress of alcoholism from a convivial hearthside drink to a deadly domestic quarrel for the parents and short lives as dissolute criminals for the children. The artist also produced in the 1860s a series of adapted fairy tales, in which all bad characters and misfortunes arose from alcohol abuse. Dickens, though quite capable of appropriating fairy tales to his own purposes, attacked Cruikshank for perpetrating "Frauds on the Fairies." For the last decades of the artist's life, he was increasingly preoccupied with the completion and display of an enormous temperance propaganda oil painting, The Worship of Bacchus (1862) and the marketing of prints from the painting. None of these later projects was financially rewarding, and Cruikshank died virtually insolvent, leaving the artistic work that survived him to the mistress by whom he had fathered ten children, and whom he had maintained in a separate secret household around the corner from his official address for many years. At the time of his death, comparatively few remembered how much impact the images of Cruikshank's art once had on English society and its behavior.
Buchanan-Brown, John. The Book Illustrations of George Cruikshank. London and Rutland, Vt., 1980. A gathering of 250 illustrations with an introductory essay and extensive notes.
Patten, Robert L. George Cruikshank's Life, Times, and Art. 2 vols. New Brunswick, N.J., 1992 and 1996. The definitive biography: the only work to treat all of Cruikshank's artistic endeavors thoroughly, and the only work based on an exhaustive collection and review of the artist's correspondence and papers.
Wardroper, John. The Caricatures of George Cruikshank. London, 1977. An insightful account of Cruikshank's genius in this genre, with reproductions of the most notable caricatures.
Logan Delano Browning
A. S. Hargreaves