Our most recent exhibition, The Paper Age, opened up our rich collection of Georgian Prints for display. Running from the 26th June – 3rd July, The Paper Age explored how the print became a means of refinement, entertainment and news, both reflecting and influencing the culture of an age. True to the period, we displayed wonderful satirical prints and a vast array of topographical, architectural and botanical engravings that would have been as eagerly collected by Georgian society as they are today. These pieces were selected for the part they played in the cultural enlightenment of society.
The Enlightenment was to change Georgian Society enormously, having swept through Western Europe from the early 17th century. It encouraged learning that allowed prints to be enjoyed beyond their aesthetic alone. Prints such as the stunning botanical engraving by Dr. Robert Thornton of a Queen Flower (fig.I), were produced to reveal the latest botanical discoveries, and to glory in the unbridled and sumptuous aesthetic of the highest quality engravings of the time.
Although often considered rather more ephemeral pieces at the time, satirical prints are considered some of the most revealing examples of Georgian printmaking, critically reflecting society and famed for their unrestrained wit and enduring popularity. S.W. Fores was a publisher perhaps best known for his collaboration with some of the greatest satirists of the period such as Charles Williams and George and Isaac Cruikshank. His business was in the heart of the West End, at No. 3 Piccadilly. Fores was the first to hire out folios of caricatures for an evening’s entertainment. These satirical engravings, (figs.II-IV), are examples of such satires that were greedily consumed in both the public and private sphere. From the Napoleonic satires like the Little Princess and Gulliver, to prints such as the Illustrious Lover – which mocks the son of George III , the Duke of Cumberland, for his infatuation with his lover – satires were both objects of entertainment and social criticism alike.
The great William Hogarth was also noted for his satirical works, often using his talents to raise awareness for social concerns, such as the Gin Craze; the ramifications of which are shown in Hogarth’s great duo, Gin Lane and Beer Street. Alongside this seminal duo, we have other wonderful series such as the celebrated moral progress of Marriage à-la-Mode – a set of six engravings that chart the disastrous marriage between a Viscount plagued with venereal disease and his adulterous new bride. Such satires were enjoyed for both their humour and the multi-faceted moral narrative journey.