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James Gillray 1757-1815
Presages of the millenium
Etching and aquatint with hand colouring, 1795
Given by Lady Violet Beaumont 1948

Gillray's powerful, apocalyptic imagery appears perfectly in tune with the violent rhetoric produced during the time of French Revolution. Prime Minister William Pitt, who had declared war on France in 1792, is transformed into Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. His 'pale horse' is a white Hanoverian horse, covered with the arms of the royal family. Trampled underfoot are the politicians who had expressed sympathy for the French cause, including Charles James Fox (clutching a glass of port) and Richard Brinsely Sheridan (with the ruddy nose). The long title for the print quotes the words of Richard Brothers, a self-proclaimed prophet. Gillray pokes fun at him by issuing the print on the day Brothers had predicted the world would end: 4 June, the official birthday of George III.

The mass of pigs extending as far as the eye can see is a visual reference to an epithet coined by Edmund Burke in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, published in 1790: 'Along with its natural protectors and guardians, learning will be cast into the mire, and trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude'. Burke's Reflections marked a turning point in the country's attitude to events taking place in France. It provoked a number of authors to respond in kind, including Thomas Paine (1737-1809) with his Rights of Man (1791-2) and Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) with her Vindication of the Rights of Man (1792). One rare print in the Fitzwilliam Museum's collection entitled Contrasted Opinions of Paine's Pamphlet, published 26 May 1791, illustrates the divisive effect these texts had on the reading public. Eight prominent individuals including Burke (top left corner) and Sheridan (bottom right corner) are shown reading Paine's Rights of Man and reacting to its contents in varying ways.


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Frederick George Byron 1764-1792 (attributed)
Contrasted Opinions of Paine's Pamphlet
Published by William Holland 1757-1815
Given by Cambridge in America on behalf of Michael Jaye, in memory of Mrs Angela Crookenden
P.5-2002

P.344-1948


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The Fitzwilliam Museum : Highlights

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