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 that 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.
James Gillray was particularly adept at satirising the fashions and social mores of the Regency period. In this image the artist turns his attention to the extravagance of dress that existed in the first quarter of the 19th century, and the impracticality of women’s flowing muslin gowns that had gained popularity. The overweight lady on the left accidentally sets her dress alight on a red-hot poker, causing a tea table to overturn, while elsewhere a cat flees and a waiter drops his tray. Here Gillray pokes fun at the serious conventions that accompanied taking afternoon tea, which in a moment are transferred into a picture of slapstick comedy.