Rude Britannia room guide: Social Satire and the Grotesque

Thomas Rowlandson A French Dentist Shewing a Specimen of his Artificial Teeth and False Palates 1811

Thomas Rowlandson
A French Dentist Shewing a Specimen of his Artificial Teeth and False Palates 1811

Andrew Edmunds, London

Philip Dawe A new fashiond head dress for the young misses of three score and ten 1777 a woman being fitted with an enormous feathered head dress

Philip Dawe
A new fashion’d head dress for the young misses of three score and ten 1777

British Museum, London

William Hogarth A Rakes Progress plate 6, 1735

William Hogarth, partly assisted by Gérard Jean-Baptiste Scotin
A Rake’s Progress. plate 6 1735

Andrew Edmunds, London

William Hogarth, ‘O the Roast Beef of Old England (‘The Gate of Calais’)’ 1748
William Hogarth
O the Roast Beef of Old England (‘The Gate of Calais’) 1748
Tate
George Cruikshank Inconveniences of a Crowded Drawing Room 1818 a picture of a room full of people squashed up against each other

George Cruikshank
Inconveniences of a Crowded Drawing Room 1818

Andrew Edmunds, London

Thomas Rowlandson Distillers looking into their own business 1811 image of three men looking in to a beer barrell

Thomas Rowlandson
Distillers looking into their own business 1811

Andrew Edmunds, London

The late eighteenth and early nineteenth century is often considered as a Golden Age of social satire. Following the model set by William Hogarth, artists lampooned the greed, self-delusion and depravity which seemed to characterise modern consumer society.

From the 1770s consumer society itself expanded enormously, fuelled by industrialisation and Britain’s growing empire. This created new commercial opportunities for comic artists, while consumerism, with its fast-moving fashions and fads, proved ripe for ever-more grotesque satire.

Social satire became tamer and less gross in the nineteenth century, but the robust style of Hogarth, Gillray and Cruikshank was renewed in more recent comic-book art. The British adult comic Viz is acting as our host for this space, with their character Roger Mellie (‘The Man on the Telly’) presenting each of the pictures.