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The Dissolution, or The Alchymist producing an Aetherial Representation

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • The Dissolution, or The Alchymist producing an Aetherial Representation
  • Description

    Pitt as an alchemist, but dressed as usual, sits in his laboratory blowing a furnace with bellows formed of a royal crown. The furnace heats a large glass retort in which the House of Commons is being dissolved: the galleries are collapsing, the Speaker's chair is breaking, he and the clerks are asleep, the broken mace drops from the table, the books fly into the air and ascend with documents, &c, into the curving neck of the retort: 'Coke', 'Acts', 'Statutes', 'Rights of Parliament', 'Magna Charta', 'Bill of Rights', a cap of 'Libertas', the scales of Justice are flying upwards. The Ministerial members applaud; the Opposition are dismayed. Sheridan and Fox, though tiny, are conspicuous on the front bench. A stream of vapour issues from the mouth of the retort containing tiny grovelling figures of abject members who fill both sides of another House of Commons above and behind the alchemist's head, and prostrate themselves before a miniature Pitt, who sits on a throne which replaces the Speaker's chair, and is inscribed 'Perpetual Dictator'. He sits arrogantly, holding a sceptre; his legs are those of a bird of prey (cf. BMSat 7478), one foot is planted on 'Mag[na] C[harta]' and 'Acts of Parl[iament]'. His throne is surmounted by his crest, a stork holding an anchor, with the addition of a crown on the bird's head. A smaller retort on the extreme left, inscribed 'Aqua Regia', adds its vapour to that produced by Pitt. (Aqua Regia, used punningly, with a double meaning, is a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acids which converts metals, even gold, into chlorides.)
    Pitt (the Alchemist) and the figures he is evoking, as well as the ministerialists in the dissolving House, wear the blue coat with red facings of the Windsor uniform. He sits in profile to the right on the model of a high rectangular building, 'a bastille', having a row of windows on the top story only; it is a 'Model of the new Barracks'. From his pocket hangs a paper: 'Receipe - Antidotus Republica'. On the right of the circular furnace is a coal-scuttle, inscribed 'Treasury Cole' (cf. BMSat 6213), and overflowing with guineas. On the other side is a pestle and mortar in which is Britannia's shield, about to be broken up.
    From the roof hang emblems of nefarious wizardry: a crocodile, a headsman's axe, a scorpion, a bull's head, a locust (cf. BMSat 8669), an asp issuing from an egg, a bat. On the wall are three rows of large jars, some with inscriptions: 'Ointment of Caterpillars' (beside Pitt's head, cf. BMSat 8676), '[Univer]sal Panacea', 'Oil of Influence', 'Extract of British Blood', 'Spirit of Sal: Machiavel.' 21 May 1796
    Hand-coloured etching


  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1796
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 355 millimetres
    • Width: 260 millimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Content

        Lettered with title, text within image and production detail: 'Js Gy des et fect / Pubd May 21st 1796 by H. Humphrey New Bond Street'.
  • Curator's comments

    (Description and comment from M.Dorothy George, 'Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires in the British Museum', VII, 1942)
    A satire on the dissolution of Parliament announced on 19 May: by Treasury gold and Crown influence the House will be transformed into one completely subservient to Pitt, cf. BMSat 8980. The building of barracks, which was regularly opposed after the Revolution as leading to military despotism, became necessary during the war, but was carried out rapidly and without parliamentary sanction or adequate Treasury control. This was denounced in the Commons as unconstitutional on 8 Apr. 1796. 'Parl. Hist.' xxxii. 929 ff. See Fortescue, 'Hist. of the British Army', iv. 903-7. For the election see BMSat 8813, &c.
    Grego, 'Gillray', p. 203. Wright and Evans, No. 150. Reprinted, 'G.W.G.', 1830. Reproduced, Grego, 'Hist. of Parliamentary Elections', p. 300.


  • Bibliography

    • BM Satires 8805 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display (British XVIIIc Unmounted Roy)

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number


FOR DESCRIPTION SEE GEORGE (BMSat). 1796  Hand-coloured etching

FOR DESCRIPTION SEE GEORGE (BMSat). 1796 Hand-coloured etching

Image description



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Object reference number: PPA142365

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