The Cruikshank online exhibit is designed to illustrate the juxtaposition between prints and book illustrations and the artist's preliminary drawings for each item. Sometimes this juxtaposition can be startling: we can see how gradually Cruikshank developed some of his visual ideas, adding or eliminating details, adjusting the composition, searching for just the right gesture or expression to strengthen his narrative, create the proper mood, and intensify a ludicrous effect.
Some of the drawings prepared for the steel plates he etched himself will reveal last-minute inspirations of the artist who could control the reproduction of his work nearly every step of the way. Conversely, some of the drawings he made for woodcut illustrations will indict the craftsmen who distorted or misconstrued his designs when they engraved the blocks, perhaps necessarily sacrificing some of the grace and finesse of the original to achieve a halfway adequate likeness in large editions on machine presses. In either case, Cruikshank’s consummate skill with pen and pencil is clearly evident.
It should be emphasized that this selection represents only a small fraction of Princeton’s holdings: many more drawings deserve to be examined closely for a better understanding of the artist’s working methods and technical constraints.