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Trait de Sensibilité ('Act of Sensibility'), an etching with hand-colouring

 

Height: 216.000 mm
Width: 275.000 mm

Department of Prints and Drawings

PD 1989-11-4-25

Prints and Drawings

    Trait de Sensibilité ('Act of Sensibility'), an etching with hand-colouring

    France, AD 1814-15

    A caricature of the English said to be drawn in London by a French prisoner of war

    The late eighteenth to early nineteenth century was the heyday of caricature prints. They enjoyed widespread popularity and flourished in Europe whenever political censorship allowed.

    Following the exile of Napoleon in 1814, the censorship laws in France were temporarily relaxed. This coincided with a massive influx of British tourists to Paris. In 1815 a writer estimated that over 30,000 British people had visited the city.

    Foreign nationals were a common target of caricature at this time, identified through symbols and human stereotypes. This etching is from a series which claims that it was drawn in London by a French prisoner of war during the Napoleonic Wars. It was published in Paris. In French caricature Englishmen are recognizable from their ill-fitting clothes, loud behaviour, gluttony and bad manners. In particular the Englishman treats his wife badly: here, Lord Buridan's wife and horse have collapsed, and Buridan attends to the horse leaving the page to see to his wife. For her part, the Englishwoman is always awkward and appallingly dressed.

    In Britain the public was used to the social and political caricature of artists such as Gillray, Hogarth and Rowlandson. Hence they provided French caricaturists with a ready-made market among the English visitors to Paris, despite the unflattering portraits of the English in them.

    A. Griffiths, Europeans in caricature 1770-1, (pamphlet) (London, The British Museum Press, 1992/3)

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