The view from France

For most French people who thought of England at all, it represented a land of liberty, with freedoms of belief, of speech, and of the press. But this admiration came with a qualification: the English, they said, thought a little too well of themselves. The English stereotype in French literature and drama was a 'milord', who was typically haughty, socially ill at ease, a woman hater, and someone who suffered from a form of melancholy. This malady was deemed to be peculiar to inhabitants of English shores, and was likely to result in acts of suicide. On the whole the perceived notion of the English national character was disagreeable.

The dangers of Revolution and the subsequent war curtailed the popular leisure activity of travel. During the lull in hostilities of the short-lived peace of Amiens (1802-3), and after the abdication of Napoleon (1814) the English flooded into Paris en masse. Most of the French caricatures in this exhibition are from around 1814-5. During this time the old stereotype was made more contemptible. The English appeared so often in the French caricatures of this time not simply because they were there, although their reappearance after the prolonged absences did have a novelty value. They were also targeted because they were despised as an Occupying Power. They were unwelcome guests, who plundered France's resources, drank Paris dry and offended its residents with their bad habits and unfashionable clothes.

In terms of physical appearance the English stereotype in the French satires is not wholly based upon the fat and stocky John-Bullesque stereotype. This type does appear, but he is amongst a wide variety of equally unattractive, misshapen men and women. The intention of the artist was to make the visitors look awkward and ungainly, having squeezed their bodies into ill-fitting hats and clothes. Their efforts to mimic Parisian fashions are laughable. They are such strange shapes, that nothing they wore could possibly disguise their plainness. Their outer wrappings mirror their inner souls: they themselves are plain and dull, the ladies unwilling or unable to fill silence with conversation, and the men prone to drink and urinating indoors.

Image["P.43-2006"]

Georges Jacques Gatine

1773-1831
Uniformes Anglais
Etching with hand colouring, c. 1815

This is the 26th plate from a series of 33 plates entitled Costumes d'Incroyables et Merveilleuses. This publication focused on portraying the fashionable men and women of the day. The inclusion of soldiers reveals to what extent they were also a common sight. This etching transgresses the standard fashion plate, however, as it merges with caricature and the tendency of French satirists to ridicule the English tourists' dress. Gatine transforms the two English soldiers into objects of mockery, employing subtle satire in showing them walking effeminately arm in arm.

Bought 2006 (P.43-2006)
view larger image


Image["34.13-180"]

Jean Baptiste Genty (publisher)

fl.1799-1830
Graduation de la Famille Anglaise
Etching with hand colouring, c. 1815

Rather than all the English tourists bearing a similarity to a well-fed John Bull-like figure, they are portrayed in these caricatures as slim as well as fat, tall as well as short. The object is to portray them with abnormal proportions to make them look as unattractive as possible.

Despite the long history of umbrella manufacture in France, they were more strongly associated with the English because of their habit of carrying them everywhere they went. In this print it is clearly supposed to be sunny as the woman has her parasol open, but the corpulent gentleman in the middle holds a substantial umbrella.

Marlay bequest, 1912 (34.13-180)
view larger image


Image["34.13-235"]

Pierre de La Mésangère (publisher)

1761-1831
Bon Genre no.68. Costumes Anglais
Etching with hand colouring, 1814

Le Bon Genre was another series of prints that documented fashionable Paris. It also contained some plates devoted to the English visitors. This caricaturist captures the English during their beloved habit of going for walks, which the French found incomprehensible. The men wear ridiculous flower-pot hats and ill-fitting clothes. The English women do not come off too badly this time, although they are wearing dresses with an unfashionable waistline. The fashion in Paris at that moment was to wear high-waisted, flowing dresses made of thin materials.

Marlay bequest, 1912 (34.13-235)
view larger image


Image["34.13-192"]

Aaron Martinet (publisher)

1762-1841
La Famille Anglais à Paris. Le Suprême Bon Ton no.11
Etching with hand colouring, 1802

This print and the one below are taken from the series Le Suprême Bon Ton; another that presented the social trends of Parisians. It included people of the height of good taste doing or wearing the latest trends. The term is ironical in this instance. The English family appear clumsy, aping good manners. Their stiff postures and the women's frumpy dresses are set against the elegant and fashionably-dressed French couple.

Marlay bequest, 1912 (34.13-192)
view larger image


Image["34.13-191"]

Aaron Martinet (publisher)

1762-1841
La Parisienne à Londres. Le Suprême Bon Ton no.12
Etching with hand colouring, 1802

The caricaturist imagines a similar meeting in London, but with exactly the same results. Horse racing appears in the background because it was recognised as a peculiarly English pastime. Again, the graceful gestures of the Parisian couple are set against the awkwardness of the English group. The French were particularly amused by English women's headwear. They seemed to come in all shapes and sizes, but were all deeply unattractive. The poke bonnet was considered the least appealing. It is worn by the lady in this print and the woman and child in the previous image.

Marlay bequest, 1912 (34.13-191)
view larger image


Image["P.44-2006"]

Alphonse Roehn

1799-1864
Trait de Sensibilité [Act of Sensibility]
Etching with hand colouring, 1814

This etching belongs to a series of caricatures that purported to be inspired from sights witnessed by a prisoner of war in London. They attempted to convey aspects of the English character. The subject of this print is rooted in a favourite preconception of the English as devoid of romantic feeling. Here, at the scene of an accident a rotund, red-faced husband has run to the aid of his horse, wilfully disregarding the health of his wife, who languishes in the arms of their ridiculously dressed son.

Given by the Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum, 2006 (P.44-2006)
view larger image


Image["P.45-2006"]

Alphonse Roehn

1799-1864
Trait de Sensibilité. Milord Buridan entre sa femme et son cheval
Etching with hand colouring, c. 1814-5

This print is from the same plate as the previous caricature, but a couple of alterations have been made in order to improve the joke. The Englishman's wife has been transformed into an idealised beauty, and a subtitle has been added. The name given to the husband, 'Buridan' refers to the 14th century philosopher, Jean Buridan, who adapted an Aristotelian paradox to tell the tale of a donkey who starved to death because of its inability to choose between two identical piles of hay.

Given by the Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum, 2006 (P.45-2006)
view larger image


Image["34.13-179"]

Aaron Martinet (publisher)

1762-1841
L'après Dinée des Anglais
Etching with hand colouring, c. 1814

Still from the same series, this print might well have been inspired by scenes of William Hogarth. It is as if the caricaturist is saying that in his opinion the national character and gross dining room habits of Englishmen had not changed in fifty years. The French were bemused by the tradition of men staying behind after dinner with the intention of drinking for drinking's sake, while their wives retired to another room.

Marlay bequest, 1912 (34.13-179)
view larger image


The Fitzwilliam Museum : The view from France

By using this site you accept the
terms of our Cookie Policy

Vive la différence!
The English and French stereotype in satirical prints, 1720-1815

You are in: Online Resources > Online Exhibitions > Vive la difference! > The view from France