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- About this Collection
- Arrangement and Access
- Background and Scope
- Selected Bibliography
- Related Resources
- Rights And Restrictions
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Background and Scope
The Prints and Photographs Division holds one of the largest collections of British political and satirical prints in America. The approximately 9,000 prints (approximately 8,500 distinct images) in the collection highlight British political life, society, fashion, manners, and theater. They were published primarily between 1780 and 1830, an era dominated by the prodigious talents and prolific efforts of such famous caricaturists as James Gillray and George Cruikshank.
The Library of Congress purchased the vast majority of the prints in this collection from the Royal Library at Windsor Castle in 1921. About two thousand of the cartoons in the collection are not found in the British Museum, the institution which holds the largest collection of British political and satirical prints in the world. The Prints and Photographs Division's holdings at the Library of Congress are thought to be the second largest collection outside Great Britain. (The Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University has about thirty thousand.) The acquisition of the Windsor Castle collection enriched the Library's collections of satires from other European nations as well. (See Related Resources for further information on the Prints & Photographs Division's other cartoon holdings and related collections in other institutions.)
Descriptions for all of the Library's collection can be searched online. A portion of the descriptions are accompanied by digital images--generally those cartoons for which researchers have requested reproductions.
Cartoonists amply represented in the Library of Congress collection include:
- James Gillray [ view examples]
- Matthew (or Matthias) Darly [ view examples]
- Henry W. Bunbury [ view examples]
- the Cruikshanks. [ view examples]
Smaller groups of works by others are also included, among them:
- John Nixon [ view examples]
- Richard Newton [ view examples]
- G.M. Woodward [ view examples]
- Robert Dighton [ view examples]
- William Dent [ view examples]
- Robert Sayer [ view examples].
While there were gaps in the collection acquired from Windsor Castle -- the Royal Library retained the works by William Hogarth, Thomas Rowlandson, James Sayers, Robert Seymour, and John Doyle -- the Library of Congress has acquired works by these artists from other sources over the years.
The caricatures form a collection of unsurpassing research value and historical interest not only for the breadth and quality of the impressions, and their depiction of British life, but also for their close association with the British royal family.
The Prince of Wales (later George IV), built on the collection created by his father George III. The two monarchs shared a passion for satires and acquired contemporary works, as well as those from earlier periods. On occasion, when confronted by a particularly offensive royal caricature, they attempted to suppress distribution of the offending cartoon by purchasing the entire edition and the plate from which it was printed. This practice is evidenced by several Windsor caricatures which bear the inscription "suppressed" within the margin below the image.
The golden Georgian age of English caricature lasted from 1770 to 1820. By the time of George IV's death in 1830, the popularity of the individually published political print was waning and artists were turning their talents to the field of illustration of books, magazines, and newspapers. The collection remained in Windsor Castle, stored in albums, until it arrived at the Library of Congress.
The cartoons cast a satirical light on many of the political events and issues of the time, as well as on manners and mores. Among the subjects represented in the online portion of the collection, for instance, are:
- the American Revolution [ view examples]
- the French Revolution [ view examples]
- Napoleonic Wars [ view examples]
- Ireland and the Irish [ view examples]
- Russia [ view examples]
- John Bull [ view examples]
- courtship and marriage [ view examples]
- fashion [ view examples]
The cartoons poke fun at a variety of individuals, including rulers and their consorts, prime ministers, and politicians. For example, the cartoons portray the foibles of:
- George III [ view examples]
- George IV and the Regency [ view examples]
- Napoleon [ view examples]
- Catherine II, Empress of Russia [ view examples]
- Maria Anne Fitzherbert [ view examples]
- William Pitt [ view examples]
- Richard Sheridan [ view examples]
- Charles Fox [ view examples]
- Edmund Burke [ view examples]