Cruikshank Collection of Drawings and
in the Princeton University Library
artists have made such a profound impression on the popular imagination
as the illustrator and caricaturist George Cruikshank. Born in 1792,
Cruikshank learned the rudiments of printmaking from his father Isaac Cruikshank,
designing song heads, lottery puffs, and satirical prints in the styleof
Rowlandson and Gillray. His etched, hand-colored caricatures amused,astounded,
and scandalized an increasingly prosperous and educated public, well informed
about current events and eager to expand its role in political affairs.
The Princeton University Library has more than six hundred of his prints,
ridiculing the extravagant foibles of High Society, the imperial pretensions
of Napoleon, the dissipated conduct of the Regent, and the petty intrigues
of Cabinet officials. He also earned a few shillings on the side
by sketching designs to be cut in wood for book illustrations and pictorial
broadsheets. The Radical publisher William Hone commissioned him
to provide the satirical woodcuts for The Political House that Jack
Built (1819), a pamphlet attacking government corruption with such
caustic wit and sheer bravado that it went through forty editions in six
months. However, Cruikshank is probably best known for his etched
illustrations in Dickens’ Oliver Twist, (1838), the first English
edition of Grimms’ fairy tales (1823-6), and the Waverley novels of Sir
Walter Scott (1836-8). With a nervous line, perfect for the etching medium,
he excelled in depicting fantastic creatures, grotesque characters, frenzied
action, outlandish costumes, and scurrilous scenes in the urban underworld.
Although this style went out of fashion in the 1840s, Cruikshank still
kept in the public eye with his illustrations for temperance tracts, historical
works, and an English edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852).
He was ardent social reformer throughout his life, passionately denouncing
the evils of drink, slavery, cruelty to animals, and arbitrary power.
In his last years, he experimented with oil painting, though without any
great success. He died in 1878, one of England’s best known and most
prolific artists, thought to have designed as many as twelve thousand printed
images in books, magazines, pamphlets, prints and printed ephemera.
work was avidly collected even in his own day. Chronically short of ready
cash, but fully aware of his rising reputation, he often pulled proof impressions
of his more ambitious prints on large paper or India paper for sale to
connoisseurs. A vast quantity of his correspondence survives, perhaps
as many as 8,500 letters in American and British repositories. His
widow bequeathed more than a thousand drawings to the British Museum. Many
libraries in America have impressive Cruikshank collections, but it could
be said that the Princeton University Library has the most comprehensive
holdings of books, manuscripts, artwork, and correspondence. Princeton
entered the field in 1913, when the investment banker Richard Waln Meirs,
Class of 1888, donated his personal collection to the Library, which has
made several major acquisitions since then, most recently three original
drawings for illustrations in William Harrison Ainsworth’s Tower of
London (1840) bound with forty-one India proofs before letters.
Robert L. Patten spent several summers working in the Princeton archive
preparing his monumental two-volume biography, George Cruikshank’s Life,
Times, and Art (1992-6). Also, in 1974 Patten edited a special
issue of the Princeton University Library Chronicle presenting a
‘revaluation’ of Cruikshank with essays by the novelist John Fowles, the
collector Richard Vogler, the Hogarth specialist Ronald Paulson, and other
scholars. Much of the commentary in this web site is based on Patten’s
biography, the Chronicle essays, and the bibliographical information
in Albert M. Cohn’s George Cruikshank: A Catalogue Raisonné
(London, 1924). For an account of Cruikshank’s achievements from
the viewpoint of a modern master of pictorial satire, see our Comic
Art at Princeton University website, curated by the New Yorker cartoonist,
Henry Martin, Class of 1948.
1991 the Library completed a finding
aid of the Cruikshank Collection, listing the contents of 35 boxes
of loose manuscripts as well as short-titles of bound manuscripts (described
more fully in the Library’s MASC
database). Most of the prints and all of the drawings are listed
VISUALS database. This web site includes a catalogue of the drawings and an
interactive exhibition of prints and drawings.
This web site includes a catalogue of the drawings and an
interactive exhibition of prints and drawings.
web site was designed by Mura Craiutu, Special Collections Assistant in
the Visual Materials Division, as part of an independent study project
in the School of Communication, Information and Library Studies at Rutgers
University. Kirk Alexander, Manager of the Multimedia Engineering
Computing Atelier, created the Almagest networked database used here for
comparing images and organizing cataloging records. Inquiries or suggestions
are welcome and can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.