British Museum collections, £12.99
William Sharp, Thomas Paine, a print after a painting by George Romney
Published in London, England, AD 1793
A portrait of the author of The Rights of Man
Thomas Paine published The Rights of Man in two parts in 1791 and 1792. It presented a view of society based not on the past but upon the natural rights of man legitimized by reason and by the success of the recent revolutions in America and France. Paine wrote eloquently in plain, simple English. The prospect that his message might be understood by the lower orders and might spark another revolution in Britain very much alarmed conservatives.
During 1792 a campaign against 'seditious writings' gathered pace and Paine was arrested, appearing in court on 8 June 1792. He fled to France never to return, while in England he was burned or hanged in effigy and vilified in many 'loyal' pamphlets and caricatures.
Few friends remained loyal to Paine but William Sharp (1749-1824) and George Romney (1734-1802) were exceptions. Sharp, the leading engraver of the day, was an active member of the Society for Constitutional Information which was dedicated to Parliamentary reform. Romney had associated with leading revolutionaries while visiting Paris in 1790. Louis XVI was guillotined in late January, in February France declared war on Britain and in April this print of the leading public enemy was published by Paine's friends.
A. Griffiths, Prints and printmaking: an int, 2nd edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)
T. Clayton, The English print, 1688-1802 (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1997)
D. Bindman, The shadow of the guillotine: (London, The British Museum Press, 1989)