Paul Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship

Friday I received the news that I was successful in my application for a Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art – a 6 month Fellowship beginning in September/October which will allow me to transform my doctoral research into publishable form. But I, of course, have no intention of merely tidying up my thesis and throwing it at a publisher with a slightly amended title (the working title is indeed slightly amended ‘ Isaac Cruikshank and the business of satirical printing, 1783-1811’). Instead I applied for a Paul Mellon Fellowship with the intention of extending some geospatial work underdeveloped in my doctoral thesis and of following up on some leads (recently found whilst researching at the London Metropolitan Archives) with regards to the interaction between vendors of satirical prints and suppliers of raw materials (such as paints, inks, paper, metal, and machinery).

That Paul Mellon recognises the value of this research is most gratifying. It is now down to me to deliver on my promises! So, in the spirit of scholarly openness, I include below the full-text of my application. Comments, thoughts, and suggestions are most welcome. I look forward to hearing what the community have to say about the project.


Isaac Cruikshank and the business of satirical printing, 1783-1811

Project outline

My research reassesses eighteenth and nineteenth century satirical printing. Satirical prints remain widely used by historians of the Hanoverian age and with the recent success of the ‘Rude Britannia’ exhibit at Tate Britain (June – September 2010), it is clear the desire to visualise past social, cultural, and political events through representative satire retains great vitality. The last major monograph on Georgian graphic satire, Vic Gatrell’s City of Laughter (2006), fits into this more general scholarly pattern deploying as it does the satirical print as evidence a thesis which reads London as the seat of debauchery and laughter. It is then Diana Donald’s canonical Age of Caricature (1996) which is the last work to attempt placing satirical prints into their social, cultural, and professional contexts. Donald’s thesis has had a powerful impact on subsequent interpretations of satirical prints. Her orthodoxy, in sum, places satirical prints into a multi-class discursive arena (exemplified by the print shop window), a methodology which has profitably allowed scholars of Georgian England to use these most lively, energetic historical artifacts as barometers of ‘popular’ public opinion.

I argue that this orthodoxy is insufficient and requires revision. Graphic satires are more than artistic representations of trends in Georgian England. They are productions of a complex trade whose etchings, engravings, mezzotints, and puffs were made for specific markets of consumers and thus defy homogeneous reading. Indeed the processes of their making, involving considerable capital investment and a development period lasting days or weeks rather than hours, ensured representations within such prints could not principally be dictated by artistic whim but instead by the requirements of consumer and publisher. Satirical prints then were not ‘popular’. Rather it was the business of publishers to make their productions popular (in terms of price, content, and politics) to their likely consumer.

According to the current edition of the Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies (34:4, December 2011) scholars of Georgian art have over recent years drifted towards studies of reception. This paradigm detaches consumption from production and reapplies it to reception, thereby redefining the consumption of art as the process of looking at art and as the act which prefigures the discussion of art (ergo reception). Such methods are insufficient when studying Georgian satirical prints for they allows no room for discussion of the existentially critical commercial aspect of these objects. Indeed my work contends that the production and consumption of satirical prints is fundamental to understanding reception, for reception in this trade was a process of dialogue, of quality assurance. In short consumers were presented with prints akin to what they wanted. If they didn’t, the businesses producing satirical prints would (and did) fail.

Perhaps the lack of direct records for the producers of satirical prints is one reason why studies of satirical prints have tended towards unproblematically deploying the representations prints contain and assuming a broad church of reception. Business records do not exist for print-sellers such as Hannah Humphrey and Samuel Fores, hence denying scholars direct access to figures of consumption. Few archival sources reveal of activities of the most prolific artists of the age – James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson, and Isaac Cruikshank.This void has been filled by observation and inference – first that prints must have enjoyed broad cultural impact for a large number of satirical prints were produced (many of a high quality) sustaining a lively and successful trade; and second that as the progenitor of modern satiric art in newspapers and comic books, Georgian satirical prints are part of a genre whose purpose is and was to comment, court controversy, and provoke rather than act as a commercially aware form of art.

My work, both past and proposed, replaces such inference with analysis of indirect sources pertaining to the business activity of this trade, especially regarding the processes of production. Records exist for the network of suppliers of paints, brushes, burins, engraving machinery, and raw materials such as copper which producers of satirical prints relied upon. Rate books provide a sense of a publisher’s structural wealth and/or financial commitments as well as offering insight into their spatial position, the environment within which they produced and sold their wares. Vast collections exist of items such as lottery puffs, octavo portraits, children’s drawing books, crude landscape scenes, expensive book reprints, and quasi-satirical prints which occupied the same commercial spaces as satirical prints, complimenting them, defining them, and giving them cultural context. Finally biographical insights into many publishers, engravers, and satirical artists do exist, suggesting both the marginal place which some figures enjoyed in London society and the centrality and respectability of others.

The use of such sources allows us to reinsert narratives of production, sale, and environment into our understanding of the Georgian satirical print, and in doing so to revise the present orthodoxy which conceives these productions as ‘popular’. It is not proposed however that a publication deploying this methodology would attempt to do so with reference to the Georgian satirical print trade in toto; given the size of the dataset involved such an enterprise would prove irreconcilably incoherent (over 7800 satirical prints are catalogued by the British Museum alone for the period 1780 to 1820, to which we can add numerous associated prints from other archival collections). Instead my work approaches the business of Georgian satirical printing through those prints designed by the Scottish satirical artist Isaac Cruikshank (1756 – 1811). As a prolific metropolitan journeyman artist and craftsman who worked with most of the metropolises minor and major print-shop publishers during the final three decades of his life, Isaac’s career allows us to rationalise the vast, unmanageable corpus of material the trade produced. And by focusing attention on those prints which speak to custom and liberty, my work is able to offer a case studies of the interpretive potential of production led studies of satirical printing – to spatially unpack the subtle ideological differences between publishers and their customers; to technologise the satirical print as a product towards which, to paraphrase the historian of science Adrian Johns, ‘we need to forget what we think we know’; to locate the popularity of satirical prints within London’s mutable class hierarchies; to revise and subvert the orthodox duality of ‘personal’ and ‘political’ prints accepted unproblematically since M. Dorothy George categorised the British Museum collections as such in the 1940s.

This study seeks then to revise our interpretation of these most beloved objects of British Art, to demonstrate how the business of satirical printing is the key social and cultural context from which the productions they made can be understood, and to create a new methodological toolset for the scholars of Georgian Britain. Finally by engaging scholars with the need to enquire into these visualisations beyond the representations they contain, this study will set the foundations for fresh analyses of identity, custom and nationhood in the Hanoverian period.

Proposed strategy

My doctoral thesis, ‘Isaac Cruikshank and the notion of British Liberty: 1783-1811’, completed between September 2007 and September 2010 at the University of Kent, Canterbury, developed and deployed the above methodology. A Paul Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship will allow me to develop this doctoral thesis into book form. First, some in-depth research is required to expand upon exploratory archival work conducted since the completion of this doctoral thesis. Second rewriting and restructuring of the doctoral research is required to suit a target audience for this work – scholars of Hanoverian and Victorian society, and specialists and collectors of caricature and prints (following suggestions from external examiner Professor Stephen Conway during the viva examination (December 2010) of this thesis).

The proposed book will proceed in two sections. Section one will concern itself with contexts. The first chapter, ‘The business of satire’, will discuss the production of satirical prints, their sale, and the environment within which these activities took place. It will highlight the diversity of the trade, stress the metropolitan nature of the trade and the importance of urban geography, and explain why Isaac Cruikshank offers a useful case-study of these commercial activities.
The second chapter, ‘The business of representation’, will discuss the existing work on satirical printing and how the evidence introduced in the first chapter problematises historiographical orthodoxies. In sum, the chapter will argue for an inversion of the process of reading satirical prints which moves from object to the representations they contain rather vice-versa.
Chapter three, ‘The business of liberty’, will introduce the case studies to follow by discussing the importance of liberty as a commercial product. It will demonstrate how multiple iterations of liberty and custom were successful in this era for metropolitan entrepreneurs publishing wares other than satirical prints, and show how environment and geography impacted upon the ideological content which came to market.
Section two will offer case studies of a production-led methodology in action. Chapter four, ‘Liberty and Scandal’, will discuss three important scandals which caught the attentions of satirical printers: the amores of George Augustus Frederick, the Mary Anne Clark affair, and the Covent Garden Old Price Riots. It will show how during the period under discussion business exigencies demanded a subtle shift from an aristocratic to an upper-middle class worldviews in the content of satirical prints. The fifth chapter, ‘Liberty and Others’, will focus on satires offering caricatures of external groups, internal groups, and fringe groups. Here, in sum, I will argue that simple social satires rather than elaborate political satires offered the most effective and long-lasting commentaries upon identity and national character. In doing so this chapter demonstrates how prints offering internal/national self-reflection (rather than erecting foreign bugaboos) were the core commercial activity of the trade.

Timetable for bringing your work to publication

Upon receipt of award
Develop/rework present application into full book proposal, including draft sample section.
Undertake training with ArcGIS (or similar) suites.

Month 1 of award
Conduct additional work suggested during viva examination, including archival work on the Covent Garden Old Price riots and the extended business network of print-sellers, and the development of a full geographical/spatial methodology.
Begin constructing and overlaying physical networks (of artists, publishers, customers, advertisers, material suppliers involved in the trade) with representative networks (of places, people, locations found in designs produced by the trade) using ArcGIS (or similar).

Month 2
Analysis of fresh research and geospatial work.
Begin integration with existing work (and identify areas least changed).

Month 3
Edit, and rewrite areas least affected by fresh research.

Months 4-6
Write-up to draft form suitable for comment from colleagues.


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