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 and the royal family.
In 'The Friend of the People' Gillray offers a commentary on the growing burden of taxation that existed in the early 19th century, implemented to fund the ever-increasing expense of war with Napoleonic France. Income tax for example was introduced for the first time by Prime Minister William Pitt in 1799, and property taxes were assessed by counting the number of windows in a building as a crude measure of its size. A whole list of consumer goods were also taxed at the turn of the century, including soap, candles and even hair powder for gentlemen’s wigs. In this image dating from the early 1800s tax collectors call at the house of stout tradesman John Bull, whose shop lies boarded up. Bull’s family are forced to retreat to smaller living quarters at the top of the house due to the expense of daily living. Meanwhile the collector below orders John to pay up ‘for the good’ of the country.