This original watercolour caricature by George Cruikshank sold at auction in London last week for a respectable £1,600. The picture is signed in the lower left hand corner but carries no title or date. Judging by the style of the clothing and uniforms, it is most likely to have been produced sometime during the 1820s.
The painting depicts a farcically mismatched couple walking together through the park. The young solider gazes down with inexplicable adoration on the smiling visage of a toothless, cross-eyed, old crone. The phallic presence of the solider’s sword and the sagging purse carried by the old woman provide a sly hint of sexual innuendo and more earthy humour. Additional comic effect is also added by the presence of several bemused bystanders, whose reactions to the pair range from amusement, to shock and disgust.
Cruikshank was regularly turning out paintings and sketches such as this by the middle of the 1820s. Permanently cash-strapped and aware that his rising reputation had created a demand for original works, he exploited the collecting market by producing countless comic pot-boilers which served to tide him over while he waited for his next big commission from one of London’s publishers. Many of these paintings played on well-worn themes of Georgian humour that would have required little effort on the part of the artist and guaranteed him a quick sale.
In this instance, Cruikshank’s humour is a little to obvious for my taste and his handling of the old woman also seems needlessly cruel to modern eyes, but the painting is well-executed nonetheless and will no doubt make a welcome addition to someone’s collection.