The history of James Gillray’s career as a caricaturist is closely intertwined with that of the Humphrey family, a group of siblings and latterly their children, who were to occupy the leading position in London’s satirical print trade for a period of roughly fifty years from the mid-1770s to the mid-1820s.
The association between Gillray and the Humphreys began with William Humphrey (1745 – 1810), who was to publish some of Gillray’s earliest satirical plates and effectively helped launch his career as a caricaturist. By 1790, William’s sister Hannah (1745 – 1818) had become Gillray’s principle patron and a close personal friend of the artist’s family. Gillray would eventually move into rooms above Hannah Humphrey’s shop and give her exclusive rights to publish and sell his prints. Following Hannah’s death in 1818 the business passed to her nephew George (1770 – 1831) who would remain at the helm until his own passing 13 years later.
While George Humphrey was able to keep the business alfoat by reissuing his stock of old plates by famous names such as Gillray, Rowlandson and Bunbury, as well as commissioning new prints from artists such as George Cruikshank and William Heath, the business was slowly overtaken by a new generation of satirical publishers. When George’s widow Marianne died in 1835 the business was finally put into administration and its remaining assets were sold.
The contents of the Humphrey family’s printshop were sold at auction by E. Foster & Son of 54 Pall Mall. The sale ran for three days and included thousands of lots, ranging from mundane items such as furniture and household effects, to hundreds of engraved copperplates and original works by some of the most famous names in the late eighteenth-century satirical art. Most of these paintings and drawings were sold on the first day of the sale, 13th June 1835, and were mainly bought by members of the London print and art-dealing fraternity. The record of these items has now been entered into the Getty Research Institute’s Provenance Index and can be viewed online.
I have reproduced the GPI results for the Humphrey sale below. As you can see, the contents of the sale included hundreds if not thousands of original sketches and drawings by James Gillray as well as a few other items by noted names from the 1780s and 1790s. We know that some of these items were sold on to the British Museum or private collectors and have survived down to the present day, but many more appear to have been lost forever. The low hammer price achieved by many of the lots indicates the degree to which Gillray’s popularity had declined by start of the Victorian era. Many of original drawings and paintings were sold for less than the price would would have been expected to pay for a coloured copy of one of his prints in the 1790s and the items that did relatively well were those without an apparent link to caricature at all, such as the (now lost) views of Brighton and Margate.
|Lot||Artist||Title / description||Price||Buyer|
|473||Gillray, James||Portraits, &c. on cards – 53||5s||Marchant|
|472||Gillray, James||Ditto [Various of old Caricatures] — 16||6s||Colnaghi|
|471||Gillray, James||Ditto [Various of old Caricatures] — 20||4s||McLean|
|470||Gillray, James||Various of old Caricatures — 21||5s||McLean|
|469||Gillray, James||Portraits of Public Characters — 18||7s||McLean|
|468||Gillray, James||Various — 14||4s||Solly|
|467||Gillray, James||Various Sketches — 17||3s||Solly|
|466||Gillray, James||Matthews’ Drama, &c. — 4||11s||Solly|
|465||Gillray, James||Musical Dandies — 10||8s||Palser|
|464||Gillray, James||Military Anecdotes, &c. — 7||4s||Money|
|463||Gillray, James||Le Palais Royal, &c. — 6||4s||Palser|
|462||Gillray, James||The French Artist, Laplanders, &c. — 8||8s||Colnaghi|
|460||Capt. Marriott||View of Hatchett’s, by Capt. Marriott, &c. — 7||9s||McLean|
|461||Gillray, James||Various Caricatures — 13||5s||Palser|
|459||Lane, Theodore||Contending for a Seat, and 14 others, all by Lane — 15||12s||McLean|
|458||Gillray, James||A Fry, a Broil, &c. the set — 8||8s||Palser|
|457||Gillray, James||Academy Figures, &c. — 22||2s||Marchant|
|456||Humphrey, [George?]||Caricatures, by Humphrey, &c. — 91||15s||Colnaghi|
|455||Various||Various by Old Masters||6s||Colnaghi|
|454||Bunbury, William Henry||Various by Dighton, Bunbury, &c. — 11||7s||Colnaghi|
|453||Rowlandson, Thomas||A Dash Down St. James’s Street, by Rowlandson, &c. — 11||6s||Evans|
|452||Gillray, James||The Ass in the Lion’s Skin, &c. — 2||3s||McLean|
|451||Gillray, James||Rake’s Progress at the University, &c. — 11||6s||McLean|
|450||Gillray, James||The Stein of Brighton, &c. — 16||£1 3s||Colnaghi|
|449||Gillray, James||Elements of Skaiting, &c. — 16||6s||Colnaghi|
|448||Gillray, James||Ditto [Humorous, on cards] — 15||6s||Money|
|447||Gillray, James||Humorous, on cards — 21||14s||Money|
|446||Gillray, James||Portraits of Public Characters – 41||£1 1s||Colnaghi|
|444||Gillray, James||Various sketches, Portraits, &c. — 42||9s||Colnaghi|
|443||Gillray, James||Ditto [Portraits, First sketches, on cards, of distinguished Characters, taken at public meetings by Mr. Gillray, to introduce into his prints] — 75||£1 2s||Colnaghi|
|442||Gillray, James||Portraits, First sketches, on cards, of distinguished Characters, taken at public meetings by Mr. Gillray, to introduce into his prints — 75
|441||Gillray, James||A Peep into the Cave of Jacobinism, &c. — 6||8s||Palser|
|439||Gillray, James||Progress of the Toilet, &c. — 3||12s||Palser|
|438||Gillray, James||Every Rogue is a Coward, &c. — 5||6s||Money|
|437||Gillray, James||The King of Brobdingnag, &c. — 3||9s||McLean|
|434||Gillray, James||Ditto [Study in oil], Britannia, &c. — 2||10s||Palser|
|433||Gillray, James||Ditto [Study in oil], Jacobin Education — 1||8s||Palser|
|432||Gillray, James||Ditto [Study in oil] — 1||8s||Colnaghi|
|431||Gillray, James||Ditto [Study in oil] — 1||12s||Colnaghi|
|430||Gillray, James||Study in oil — 1||18s||Colnaghi|
|429||Gillray, James||A Cure for Drowsiness, &c. — 4||£1 1s||Colnaghi|
|427||Gillray, James||Pair, Liberty without Law, and Lawful Liberty — 2||15s||Colnaghi|
|425||Gillray, James||Farmer Giles, &c. — 3||19s||McLean|
|424||Gillray, James||Evening, or a Rapturous Idea, &c. — 2||10s||Colnaghi|
|423||Gillray, James||Various sketches — 4||15s||Palser|
|422||Gillray, James||Phaeton Alarmed, &c. — 3||12s||Colnaghi|
|421||Gillray, James||Garden of Old Time, &c. — 6||£1||Edwards|
|420||Gillray, James||Gaming, &c. — 4||£1 1s||Colnaghi|
|419||Gillray, James||Cobbett’s Procession, &c. — 2||16s||Colnaghi|
|418||Gillray, James||Journey to Margate, the set — 11||£2||Solly|
|417||Gillray, James||Alexander the Great at the Tomb of Prusssian, Achilles, &c. — 3||£1||Colnaghi|
|416||Gillray, James||Golgotha, or the Place of Sculls, &c. — 4||£1 1s||Colnaghi|
|415||Gillray, James||Somebody, Nobody, &c. — 5||17s||McLean|
|414||Gillray, James||Ditto [Various Portraits] — 12||£1 2s||McLean|
|413||Gillray, James||Various Portraits — 13||£1 5s||Colnaghi|
|412||Gillray, James||Exhibition of Pictures, &c. — 6||£1 8s||Colnaghi|
|411||Gillray, James||Various Sketches — 10||12s||Colnaghi|
|410||Gillray, James||The Attempt to Assassinate a Branch of the Blood Royal in the Palace, &c. — 5||9s||Colnaghi|
|409||Gillray, James||Shipping — 5||5s||Colnaghi|
|408||Gillray, James||Pair, Calm and Storm, &c. — 7||14s||Money|
|407||Gillray, James||Ditto [Various small Sketches] — 21||13s||Palser|
|406||Gillray, James||Various small Sketches — 21||16s||Colnaghi|
|405||Gillray, James||Retirement from Public Business, &c. — 8||16s||Palser|
|404||Gillray, James||Broadbottom, Dripping Pan, &c. — 6||11s||Colnaghi|
|403||Gillray, James||Phantasmagoria, &c. — 9||16s||Colnaghi|
|402||Gillray, James||Charon’s Boat, &c. — 4||13s||Colnaghi|
|400||Gillray, James||Ditto [Various Sketches] — 13||12s||Colnaghi|
|399||Gillray, James||Ditto [Various Sketches] — 12||10s||Colnaghi|
|398||Gillray, James||Various Sketches — 30||15s||Colnaghi|
- Engraved by Theodore Lane and published by Humphrey in January 1822. See BM 14451 & 14453.
- A pen and watercolour caricature by Lt-Col. Thomas Braddyll (1776 – 1862) which has been mistakenly attributed to Gillray. Braddyll was an amateur artist who submitted designs for caricatures to Gillray.
- Possibly Voltaire Instructing the Infant Jacobinism and undated oil on paper work in the New York Public Library. Illustrated in James Gillray the art of Caricature p. 107.
- Engraved by George Cruikshank and published by Humphrey in January 1822. BM 14442.
- The original is now in the British Museum collection but no images have been made available online. Illustrated in Donald p. 157.
- Possibly BM 10755, an ink and chalk sketch for an apparently unpublished satire entitled Alexander and Frederick swearing over ye Tomb of Frederick ye Great to extirpate ye Corsican Butcher from ye earth. A.M. Broadley describes a different version of the same drawing which was part of his collection. It is not clear which picture the 1835 sales catalogue refers to.