This set of nine small caricature studies came up for auction in the UK earlier this week. The auctioneer attributed them to Henry William Bunbury but I suspect that they are more likely to be the work of an amateur caricaturist who was active around the same time. The subjects clothing suggests that the artist must have moved in wealthy, or possibly even courtly circles, and was no doubt one of the legion of enthusiastic amateur artists who supplied designs to the proprietors of London’s printshops during the 1770s and 1780s. The cards themselves are neither signed nor dated and have estimated their likely date based on the dress of the subjects.
If you look at the image above in detail you will note that the cards have slightly irregular edges, indicating that they originally square pieces of card that were trimmed down into an oval shape. This may have been done after the drawings were completed, in an attempt to emulate the conventionally oval shape of conventional miniatures and silhouette portrait studies. Alternatively, the cards could have been cut before they were drawn on, in order to make them easier to carry and to hold in one’s palm while executing a rapid off the cuff sketch. We know that Gillray was in the habit of carrying a deck of small blank cards around with him in order to quickly capture likeness and it’s perfectly possible that other artists worked in a similar fashion.