Friday, June 3, 2011

George Moutard Woodward (1760?-1809)

by Mathew Crowther

George Moutard Woodward was born sometime around 1760 to a family who were in service at Stanton Hall in Derbyshire. The young Woodward grew up in the nearby market town of Stanton-by-Dale and, judging by the evidence of his later writings, received a relatively sound education. Woodward took to caricature in his youth as a means of ridicule his neighbours and local dignitaries. A folio of his earliest drawings, dated to 1781, is in the Derby Local Studies Library, among a sizeable collection of his prints, drawings, and book illustrations.

His caricatures having caused something of a local stir, he persuaded his father to let him seek his fortune in London. Apart from two caricature prints dated 1785 designed by Woodward and published by him from 28 Cary Street Lincoln's Inn, it was not until 1790 that he made an impact on the London scene. Thereafter his output was copious. The British Museum catalogues list 525 examples of his work from the next twenty years, published by Holland, Fores, Ackermann, and latterly Tegg, all leading print sellers. These prints, designed by Woodward, are etched by others - Rowlandson, who was his friend and drinking companion, Isaac Cruikshank, Roberts, and Williams.

Woodward's original drawings are vigorous but crude, marked by heavy outlines and coarse colouring; his value lay in his humorous ideas. Woodward's political prints and broadsides are orthodox in outlook, generally supporting the government and always ready to lambast the French. His forte was social humour, and in this area his reputation between 1807 and 1809 surpassed even that of Rowlandson. Lacking the serious purpose of a satirist and going beyond the ritual mockery of hypocrisy and affectation, he concentrated on jokes, which were often ribald. For his contemporaries, much of the attraction of his work lay in the captions, which relied heavily on wordplay and were sometimes couched in doggerel verse. He tended to choose his subjects from the middle and lower classes rather than high society and had a partiality for sailors.

Woodward was a pioneer of the strip cartoon. Elaborating a method of Bunbury and F. G. Byron, he produced between 1794 and 1800 a number of single-sheet caricatures, with titles like ‘The Effects of Flattery’, that were variations on a theme arranged in rows, a device that was much exploited. He showed versatility too in designing book illustrations, borders, and screen decorations. Of Woodward's books, the first and most celebrated was Eccentric Excursions, published in 1796 with 100 plates engraved by Isaac Cruikshank after his designs. Woodward's text describes an idiosyncratic ramble round the country and reveals an engaging personality. At least seven other books followed, all broadly humorous and witty.

After 1805 there is a notable tailing off in his works as an artist and an engraver and most of the prints which carry his name after this date will usually be followed by the abbreviation 'Del.', meaning 'delineated by' and indicated that the print came from an original concept by Woodward but which was drawn and engraved by another artist. From 1805 until his death Woodward seems to have worked in closely with Thomas Rowlandson and may have been jointly employed with him to produce satires for the publisher Thomas Tegg. Although I'm not sure why Woodward went into decline as an independent artist in these years I would speculate that it may have had something to do with his drinking which, even by the dissipated standards of the day, was considered to be excessive.

The first image is a rare example of an etching in Woodward's own hand entitled A New Phantasmagoria for John Bull!!In this print, John Bull is seen as a sailor wearing striped trousers, a sword in his right hand. He looks towards two figures poised on the beams, which radiate from a magic lantern worked by Napoleon. Other beams reach a bear standing on a rocky island on the horizon behind John. Napoleon says: “Begar de brave Galanté Shew - for Jonny Bull.” The two lantern-figures include a French officer, holding a tricolour flag in the left hand, and young woman. He says: “Here we come Johnny - A Flag of Truce Johnny - something like a Piece! all deckd out in Bees, and stars and a crawn [sic] on her head - Not such a patch’d up piece as the last.” John answers with a distrustful stare: “You may be d——-d and your piece too! - I suppose you thought I was off the watch - I tell you Ill say nothing to you till I have consulted Brother Bruin and I hear him grouling terribly in the offing.”

The second is a print which was published just a couple of weeks before Woodward's death in 1809 and was drawn and etched by Rowlandson from an original idea by Woodward. The Head of the Family in Good Humour is a relatively pugnacious reflection on Britain's isolation at this stage in the Napoleonic Wars. John Bull is surrounded by scowling and grotesquely caricatured foreigners who issue various warnings such as; "Austria will never pardon him" and "let him tremble at the name of America" but appears utterly unconcerned and responds by saying "Don't make such a riot you noisy little brats, all your bustle to me is no more than a storm in a chamber pot."

Third is an image from a series he produced with Rowlandson in 1799. Grotesque Borders for Screens, Billiard Rooms, Dressing Rooms, &c., &c., Forming a Caricature Assemblage of Oddities, Whimsicalities & Extravaganzas!! was an early form of the 'scrap sheets' which were to become popular in the 1820s and 30s. The prints were issued as one large series of images which were meant to be cut up and pasted around the borders of albums of caricatures and prints.

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