British Museum guidebook, £3.50
Height: 36.600 cm
Width: 29.500 cm
Gift of William Smith
Prints and Drawings
James Gillray, A Voluptuary under the horrors of Digestion, a print
Published in London, England, AD 1792
Royal cause for concern
Gillray portrays George, Prince of Wales, later Prince Regent and George IV (reigned 1820-1830), picking his teeth with a table fork, having demolished a heavy meal and a considerable quantity of wine. The Prince was notoriously dissolute and spendthrift. His room is littered with empty bottles, pills and unpaid bills. His passion for gambling is indicated by dice, lists of forthcoming horse races at Newmarket and accounts of his losses at cards. It was a barely exaggerated portrait of the man known as the 'Prince of Whales'.
Foreign visitors who saw such prints could not believe that in England it was possible to ridicule the morals and manners of the heir to the throne in this way, especially at the time of the French Revolution, when monarchy was conspicuously vulnerable. In their eyes such prints confirmed the British reputation for free speech and liberty.
The use of the fashionable dotted medium for a caricature parodies its conventional use for elegant portraiture. The contrast between the delicate and refined medium and the Prince's gross figure further ridicules him.
There is nothing unusual about criticism of the British royal family, though the extravagances of George, Prince of Wales gave particular cause for concern.
M.D. George, Catalogue of political and per (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1935-54)
D. Donald, The age of caricature: satiric (Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1996)
D. Hill, Fashionable contrasts: 100 car (London, Phaidon, 1966)