James Gillray was one of the finest caricaturists of the Georgian period. First apprenticed as an engraver in London, Gillray then attempted to launch himself as a conventional artist by studying at the Royal Academy School. But it was in caricature where Gillray found his true calling. He is thought to have published over a thousand satires during his lifetime, drawing special attention for his lampooning of George III, the royal family, Napoleon and revolutionary France.
In Doublures of Character, first published to wide praise in 1798, Gillray suggests that physiognomy (a person’s outward physical appearance) was enough to depict a subject’s deeper personality – a theory that gained strong support during the 19th century. Seven leaders of the opposition are depicted in relief, accompanied by their (true) alter-egos as shadowy and sinister background figures. By exaggerating key physical features Gillray made his subjects instantly recognisable to the public. In the first image Charles James Fox, the champion of liberty and parliamentary reform, is shown as Satan: the ‘arch fiend’ determined to wreck the state. Also shown is Sir Francis Burdett who is rendered into a low character from the famous opera The Beggar’s Opera, while in the final image the Duke of Bedford is shown as a lowly jockey, unbefitting to his elevated social rank.