Tate Britain
6 June – 2 September 2001

Tate Britain will present an exhibition of the outstanding eighteenth-century caricaturist James Gillray (1756 -1815) from 6 June 2001. Gillray has long been admired as an outstandingly inventive artist, and his work continues to influence cartoonists all over the world. The exhibition is supported by The Economist and has been organised in association with the British Museum.

The exhibition is the first major show of Gillray’s work in Britain for more than thirty years and the largest Gillray exhibition ever, bringing together over 150 of his drawings and prints. Major works from public and private collections in Britain and the United States will be shown, including a rich selection of prints lent by the Library of Congress in Washington DC. These were initially purchased by the then Prince of Wales (later George IV), who had a keen appreciation of caricatures, even those that featured outrageous attacks on himself and the Royal Family. Also included will be a variety of comparative material such as books, medals and sculptures, creating a vivid impression of Gillray’s epoch and providing a lively introduction to the art of caricature.

Although Gillray’s art is grounded in the political and social realities of his time, the wit and robust vulgarity of his images continues to engage and even shock a contemporary audience. His ferocious satires on the themes of sleaze, vanity and tyranny of politicians and royalty, and his savage commentary on national character, are still relevant today. The exhibition will bring to life the key characters from Gillray’s world including celebrated historical figures such as Napoleon Bonaparte and William Pitt the Younger. Gillray’s place in art history will also be explored through the inclusion of works by artists known to have admired and copied him, including Goya, David and Rowlandson.

James Gillray: The Art of Caricature aims to consolidate Gillray’s status as a visual artist, and thus the status of caricature itself, at the same time as providing an entertaining and provocative experience for visitors. The display is broadly chronological, with an overview of caricature followed by sections looking at Gillray’s relationship with the art of his time, at his images of the French Revolution and his scandalous satires of the royal family.

The curator of the exhibition is Richard Godfrey, the leading scholar of Gillray and of British printmaking. He has been assisted by Dr Mark Hallett, University of York and Martin Myrone, Curator, Tate Britain. A fully illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition (240pp, £29.99).