A Grotesque Trilogy

This room highlights three of Gillray’s greatest prints: Shakespeare Sacrificed 1789, Lieutenant Governor Gall-Stone 1790, and Titianus Redivivus 1797. They are some of his largest and most elaborate satires, teeming with grotesque figures that repay prolonged examination. These three prints were not planned as a group, but must have been a declaration of intent by Gillray, demonstrating his status as an exponent of the comic sublime, and his power as an unlicensed scourge of the complacency of the art establishment that had rejected him.

James Gillray, Shakespeare -Sacrificed; -or- The Offering to Averice

James Gillray
Shakespeare – Sacrificed; – or – The Offering to Averice
Published 20 June 1789

Courtesy of The British Museum, London

Shakespeare Sacrificed ridicules the print publisher, John Boydell, who in May 1789 had opened a ‘Shakespeare Gallery’, ostensibly to provide patronage for struggling British history painters, but, Gillray claims, in fact simply to make large amounts of money from the sale of reproductive prints after their work. 

James Gillray Titianus Redivivus; - or - The Seven-Wise-Men consulting the new Venetian Oracle

James Gillray
Titianus Redivivus; – or The Seven-Wise-Men consulting the new Venetian Oracle 1797

The British Museum

Titianus Redivivus (literally ‘Titian Born Again’) deals with a woman named Anna Provis, who claimed to have ‘rediscovered’ the lost secret of Titian’s painting technique. The President of the Royal Academy, and several other leading members of the art establishment, were taken in by the woman’s impostures, although her career did not last long after the publication of Gillray’s print. 

James Gillray, Lieutenant Governor Gall-Stone

James Gillray
Lieutenant Governor Gall-Stone, inspired by Alecto; – or – The Birth of Minerva

The British Museum

Lieut. Governor Gall-Stone is a sustained, complex and savage attack on one man: Philip Thicknesse, the former Governor of Landguard Fort in Suffolk, who claimed to have discovered the painter Thomas Gainsborough, but who was also variously accused of extortion, blackmail, and libel, as well as being notorious as a lecher and sadist.