- Museum number
The Pillar (Altar) of the Constitution, study for the satirical print 'The Pillar of the Constitution' (BMSat 10738), published 1807; Lord Grenville dressed as Guy Fawkes stacking gunpowder barrels around the base of the altar, watched over by an all-seeing eye hovering in a cloud. c.1807
Pen and ink and brown wash over red chalk
Verso: study for the satirical print 'Les Invisibles' (BMSat 11612), published in 1810; a group of men and women in contemporary French dress. c.1810
- Production date
- 1807-1810 (circa)
Height: 322 millimetres
Width: 463 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- This is a working drawing for the satire published by Gillray on 4 June 1807 as 'The Pillar of the Constitution' (Dorothy George, BM Satires 10738). The so-called 'Broad-bottomed' coalition was brought down over the issue of Catholic emancipation by a group led by Lord Grenville. Gillray casts the politicians as members of the gunpowder plot, all holding barrels of gunpowder with various captions. The complexity of the political issues at stake is indicated by texts on the different items stacked on the 'Altar'; in the print, this was simplified to a single pillar, but the plotters' intentions are discovered by the all-seeing eye of George III, hovering in a cloud overhead.
The drawing is an excellent example of Gillray's working method, a type of thinking aloud involving image and text taking shape in tandem. The wide margins of this sheet allow him plenty of space for jottings as he searches for the most incisive title, and for redrawing his altar with greater clarity, even though this problematic image was one he later felt obliged to abandon.
This drawing was purchased at auction in London from the collection of the American cartoonist L. Draper Hill. According to Dorothy George, there are further related drawings in the House of Lords Library and a more complete drawing, squared for possible transfer, in red and brown pen and ink, is in the A. M. Broadley collection in the Westminster Public Library (Bath & Piccadilly, vol. I, p. 185), but the latter does not include the 'all seeing eye of George III'.
Lit.: I. Seligman, 'Lines of Thought', London, 2016, no. 26, p. 63.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2007, 28 June-11 November, BM, room 90, 'Prints and Drawings: Recent Acquisitions'
2014/15 Dec-Feb, BM, (Con)textual Readings: Word and Image
2016 3 Sep - 6 Nov, Poole Museum, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 26
2017 1 Jan - 25 Feb, The Brynmor Jones Library Art Gallery, University of Hull, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 26
2017 12 Mar - 5 May, Ulster Museum, Belfast, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 26
2017 May - Sep, New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 26
2017-2018 Oct - Jan, RISD Museum, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 26
- Associated events
- Associated Event: Popish Plot
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- This item has an uncertain or incomplete provenance for the years 1933-45. The British Museum welcomes information and assistance in the investigation and clarification of the provenance of all works during that era.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number