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

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The view from England

Apart from the warring history, there were many more reasons why France and the French were such a popular choice for satire. The French were at the opposite end of the scale in terms of politics, values and beliefs: they were Catholic, and their society was run by an effeminate (and many thought, degenerate) court and a despot king, who maintained his authority through violence. The infamous lettres de cachet (the means by which an individual could be sentenced without trial), the Bastille fortress, and implements of torture were all read as symbols of an oppressive regime. There were many people on this side of the Channel who fervently believed that life was just better in England.

William Hogarth is renowned for his enigmatic patriotism and his dislike of anything foreign (although this is itself a stereotype of his character). He is remembered for thinking that much of France was full of despotism, religious zeal, wooden clogs (sabots) and foppery. It is Hogarth who establishes in visual form the stereotype of the poverty-stricken Frenchman which is reused and recycled by the satirists after him. In the first half of the century a generic Frenchman had appeared in numerous plays and literary texts. In John Arbuthnot's The History of John Bull (1712) the Englishman is contrasted against his foreign counterparts Louis Baboon (France, corruption of the king, Louis Bourbon) and Nick Frog (Holland). The French as a whole would not yet be known as frogs until the turn of the century. Rather, a Frenchman was portrayed as a monkey, because of his chattering nature and scrawny physique.

In the 1790s Gillray picks up the simian qualities of the older representations of Frenchmen, but makes them more grotesque and fiendish. The events of the French Revolution were recognised as momentous even at the time, although for the most part news was followed on this side of the Channel with a curiosity born of self interest. From the outset until 1792 there was a marked optimism about the Revolution, although Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France of 1790 caused many people to change their minds. After the execution of Louis XVI the stereotype of the Frenchman was no longer a laughing matter. They were no longer portrayed as foppish and generally harmless fools, but as dangerous sans-culottes, appearing in swarms as a grotesque, undifferentiated mass, or becoming diabolical or mad, devoid of humanity and behaving like wild beasts.


William Hogarth

The Invasion Plate 1: France (detail) Etching, state 3 of 3, 1756

During the 1750s hostilities between England and France mounted, culminating in the Seven Years' War, which officially began in the year this print was published. This print is informal, and jocular, as is its companion, which shows England's carefree attitude to the threat of invasion.

Here is Hogarth's representation of the malnourished French soldier, who frequents inns dedicated to the symbol of French slavery and poverty: the wooden shoe (sabot). Through the window is visible the dry bones of a small joint of beef. A monk and soldiers prepare to invade Britain with torture equipment, whilst cooking up a last meal of frogs. The writing on the flag on the right suggests that the French are eager to enjoy the abundance of food and drink across the Channel.

Founder's bequest, 1816 (22.K.3-77)
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Anonymous after Samuel Hieronymus Grimm

La Françoise à Londres. The French Lady in London, or the Head Dress for the Year 1771
Engraving, 1771

After Hogarth and before the French Revolution the humour directed at the French in caricatures is gentler. The satire is usually focussed on fashion and hairstyles, the latter being the subject of this print. The fashion for wealthy French women of the 1760s and 1770s was to wear their powdered hair tall, although this lady's coiffure is monstrously exaggerated.

Given by Louis Colville Gray Clarke in 1940 (P.261-1940)
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James Gillray

French Democrats surprising the Royal Runaways
Etching with hand colouring, 1791

Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France of 1790 had fractured opinion in Britain. From now on supporters of events in France could be seen as dangerous liberals. Here a French mob composed of 'working men' (see the implements of trade they are waving) uses excessive force to recapture the French royal family, who tried to escape the country in 1791. The French stereotype is now more bloodthirsty and savage than that of Hogarth's prints. Notice Gillray does not spare the cowardly royal family either.

Given by Lady Violet Beaumont, 1948 (P.233-1948)
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James Gillray

French Liberty | British slavery
Etching with hand colouring, 1792

This is an example of a two-compartment composition, which was a popular format during the 1790s because it allowed for direct contrasts. Here, a new figure emerges: that of the sans culotte. So-called in France because they wore full trousers rather than knee-breaches, in England the term was translated in literal sense as 'without trousers'. The Frenchman thanks his country for his freedom while munching on raw onions, while his English counterpart gorges on a table of food as he curses his taxes. The use of a well-fed John Bull was a popular choice when used in contrast with the French revolutionaries as the juxtaposition emphasised England's prosperity while simultaneously denigrating France.

Given by Lady Violet Beaumont, 1948 (P.288-1948)
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James Gillray

Un petit soupèr a la Parisiènne: or - A Family of Sans Culotts refreshing after the fatigues of the day
Etching with hand colouring 1792

This caricature was inspired by news in London of the September Massacres in Paris (2-6 September 1792). Victims of the massacres are devoured by the sharp-toothed, cannibalistic monsters the revolution had brought into existence. The world has been turned upside down and the lowest in society rule - or in this case, eat - the highest. Gillray was also clearly enjoying taking the stereotype of the revolutionaries projected by anti-radicals in England to the extreme.

Given by Lady Violet Beaumont, 1948 (P.283-1948)
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James Gillray

Dumourier dining in State at St James's on the 15th May 1793
Etching with hand colouring, 1793

Gillray has ironically inscribed this print with the words pro bono publico [for the public good]. The French general, Charles François Dumouriez (his name was anglicised in England), is invited to dine by the Opposition Whigs, Charles James Fox and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and Joseph Priestley, defender of the French Revolution. They offer their guest William Pitt's head, a crown and a mitre, three symbols of the English constitution, parliament, the monarchy and the Church. All the dishes are garnished with frogs. The use of eating as a means of conveying the balance of power is used repeatedly in the caricatures from this period.

Given by Lady Violet Beaumont, 1948 (P.303-1948)
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James Gillray

A Paris Beau
A Paris Belle

Etching with hand colouring, 1794

With this pair of 'portraits' Gillray visualises the new representatives of the French people.

The Paris Belle's words Je suis la Deese de la Libertè [I am the goddess of Liberty] refer to the dechristianisation of France. At the end of 1793 the Notre Dame Cathedral had been renamed the Temple of Reason.

Given by Lady Violet Beaumont, 1948 (P.315-1948, P.316-1948)
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James Gillray

The Zenith of French Glory: the Pinnacle of Liberty
Etching with hand colouring, 1793

This image echoes Burke's statement in Reflections (1790) where he writes of the cry to hang bishops from the lampposts. A terrifying sans-culotte sits up high on a lamp bracket, resting a foot on the neck of one of the clergymen who are strung up below him. The scene the revolutionary fiddler is watching is the guillotining of Louis XVI. The execution platform is surrounded by a swarm of fellow revolutionaries, eerily denoted solely by their bonnets rouges. In the background a church dome is aflame, and the liberty cap and stick on the right make an inverted crucifix.

Given by Lady Violet Beaumont, 1948 (P.298-1948)
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James Gillray

Tiddy-doll, the great French-Gingerbread-Baker, drawing out a new batch of Kings
Etching with hand colouring, 1806

With the arrival of Napoleon the English satirists had the opportunity to ridicule a man instead of a generalised stereotype. In this caricature Napoleon and Talleyrand bake ginger-bread kings for the emperor's imperialistic grand plan. Gillray defends the English audience against the threat of Napoleon by making him look decidedly unthreatening. Standing in an apron and dwarfed by his enormous hat, Napoleon is made into a laughable figure.

Given by Lady Violet Beaumont, 1948 (P.643-1948)
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George Murgatroyd Woodward

Friends & Foes - Up he goes - Sending the Corsican Munchhausen to St Clouds
Etching with hand colouring, 1815

In this etching is an assembled party of representatives of the Powers of Europe. John Bull is front centre surrounded by (clockwise) a Dutchman, a Cossack, the Pope, a representative of Poland, Bernadotte, king of Sweden and Norway, followed by Bavaria, Austria, Prussia, Hanover, and the plump king of Württemberg. They toss Napoleon in a blanket. The title refers to him as the "Corsican Munchhausen" - ironically comparing him with the brave adventurer, Baron Munchausen.

Given by Cambridge in America on behalf of Michael Jaye, in memory of Mrs Angela Crookenden (P.52-2002)
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