T02268 THE WORSHIP OF BACCHUS published 1864
Inscribed ‘First Proof’ b.l. and signed ‘George Cruikshank’b.r.
Engraving 21 7/8 × 38 3/4 (55.7 × 98.4), on paper 25 1/2 × 41 3/8 (64.7 × 105)
Purchased from Miss F. Egerton (Grant-in-Aid) 1978
Prov: ...; Miss F. Egerton.
Lit: The Worship of Bacchus, A Critique...by John Stewart, A DescriptiveLecture by George Cruikshank and Opinions of the Press,, 1862, pp.7, 8–17;Art Journal, 1865, p.117; B. Jerrold, The Life George Cruikshank, new ed., 1898, pp.286–301; A.M. Cohn, George Cruikshank: a Catalogue Raisonne, 1974, cat. no. 2110; exhibition catalogue, The Inimitable George Cruikshank..., University of Louisville Libraries, Kentucky, USA, 1968, no.105; exhibition catalogue, George Cruikshank, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973–4, nos. 392–4.
T02268 is a proof before letters, on india paper, pulled from the steel engraving of Cruikshank's large oil painting ‘The Worship of Bacchus’, No. 795 in the collection. When the print was finally published in 1864 with the full title, ‘The Worship of Bacchus, or The Drinking Customs of Society’, the following details were added beneath the bottom edge of the engraved image: ‘The Figures outlined on the Steel Plate by George Cruikshank & the Engraving finished by Charles Mottram - Printed by R. Holdgate and Published June 20th 1864 by William Tweedie, 337 Strand, London’.
‘The Worship of Bacchus’ was intended to be Cruikshank's magnum opus for the cause of temperance which he had espoused since the 1840s. In 1847 he produced ‘The Bottle’, a Hogarthian series of eight engraved plates showing the disastrous consequences of ‘the frequent use of the bottle’. After this date, Cruikshank practised total abstinence and he became a frequent lecture for the National Temperance League.
In a draft letter (undated, but probably c.1867) to the Chairman and Committee of the National Temperance League (private collection, U.S.A.), Cruikshank states that it was late in 1859 when he suggested to the League the idea of painting a large oil (approximately seven by thirteen feet) of ‘The Worship of Bacchus’ to be engraved as propaganda for the cause. He began sketches of the subject in November 1859 and one of these, inscribed by Cruikshank ‘A First Sketch...’, is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Cruikshank then made a large oil sketch (present whereabouts unknown) and the idea and the design were approved, though the League requested him to make a large watercolour design (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, no.71–1880) to be engraved instead of the large oil he had proposed. The watercolour is inscribed ‘Designed and Drawn by George Cruikshank. Teetotaller 1860’ and is given the full title: ‘The Worship of Bacchus-or-The Drinking Customs of Society, showing how the Intoxicating Liquors are used upon every occasion in life, from the Cradle to the Grave’. The engraving was begun; Cruikshank was to draw the outlines on the plate and Charles Mottram was to execute the details. Cruikshank's draft letter to the League reveals that in November 1860 the League sent John Stewart (an art critic who wrote for the Art Journal) to say that they had decided, after all, to commission the large oil. The engraving work stopped until this was finished; according to Cruikshank's letter, the painting took about a year and eight months to complete.
The painting was on exhibition by August 1862 in a small gallery at 21 Wellington Street, Strand, when it was noticed by the Art Journal (p.195). A pamphlet written by Cruikshank and Stewart was also published in 1862 and this contained the full text of the artist's first lecture on the picture, given on 28 August, in which he gave a detailed description of the numerous incidents depicted on the canvas. John Stewart in his introductory comments rightly pointed our the importance that the engraving had in Cruikshank's scheme:‘... the print is the true completion of the work; while the picture is only a portion of the preparatory means to the nobler and more enduring end and aim’. Cruikshank himself felt the painting ‘a mighty instrument in aid of the Temperance cause ... that will be increased a hundred fold when the engraving...is completed’.
The Tate Gallery 1978-80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981