The second room in this exhibition presents a selection of Gillray’s earliest work, from the late 1770s and the 1780s. It includes examples of his first attempts at caricature, and shows his art in relation to the graphic satire produced by contemporaries such as Thomas Rowlandson, John Hamilton Mortimer and James Sayers, suggesting the extent to which he both absorbed and stimulated the work of fellow artists and caricaturists. Other material introduces Gillray’s printmaking techniques, and investigates the sources of his style in earlier art, such as the work of Brueghel and Hogarth.
A group of ‘straight’ prints shows Gillray’s efforts to establish himself as a serious reproductive engraver. These efforts, though highly skilled, were doomed to failure by his inability to keep humorous exaggeration and idiosyncrasy from his work. Finally, a large group of caricatures, produced in a burst of tremendous activity during the late 1780s, shows the emergence of his mature style, and the completely original, baroque energy that Gillray introduced into the art of graphic satire.