James Gillray Portrait of George Humphrey

James Gillray
Portrait of George Humphrey 1811
The British Museum

Gillray’s world began to change irrecoverably early in the nineteenth century. The familiar targets of his satire disappeared: William Pitt and Charles James Fox both died in 1806, and a few years later, in 1810, the old King, George III, lost his reason, never to regain it.

Gillray’s output had already began to falter from 1807, when he suffered a mental and physical breakdown from which he never recovered. He published his last print in 1809, and by 1810 had become incurably insane. He was nursed by his publisher, Hannah Humphrey (who, despite being a spinster, preferred to be known as ‘Mrs’ Humphrey) until his death in 1815.

The selection of his last drawings shown in this room, many of which have never been seen in public before, reveal how the energetic style of drawing which had characterised his output when he had been in good health, became more exaggerated as his mind decayed, while retaining some remnant of his compellingly expressive power.