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 this cartoon titled Making Decent Gillray satirises the attempts that were made by fashionable men and women to present an image of elegance to the outside world throughout the Georgian period. Several gentleman shave, wash and powder themselves extravagantly, while others among the thirteen corpulent figures squeeze into ill-fitting formal costumes, including an army officer and a member of the judiciary, shown on the right in his long-bottomed wig. This is physical caricature in its purest form, where the pomposity observed at court and parliament is pricked by Gillray’s brush.