Our current fascination
with gossip and scandal is nothing new. Regency England reveled
in ‘tittletattle,’ and had its own colorful scandalsheets
and “paparazzi.” Newspapers and pamphlets reported
in lurid detail on the celebrity bad boys—and bad girls—of
high society. Like today, sex, money and politics were hot topics.
As for pictures, there were, of course, no cameras to capture
candid snapshots and personal transgressions. But the artists
of the Regency could be even more cutting than modern-day photographers,
and their sharp wit make them famous in their own right.
The art of satire was honed to a fine edge in the Regency London.
The top printmakersof the day, in particular James Gilray, Thomas
Rowlandson and George Cruikshank, were masters at creating caricatures
of famous figures of the day—anyone from leading politicians
to notorious courtesans. Irreverent and scathingly satirical,
the prints were wildly popular with the public, and and serve
as a wonderful social and cultural record of the era. In his book,
City of Laughter, Vic Gatrell estimates that 20,000 prints were
published between 1770 and 1830. Here are just a few samples:
Or, The Duchess’s Little Shoe
Yielding To The Magnitude of the Duke’s Foot
by James Gillray