James Gillray: The Scourge of Napoleon

Cartoon historian Mark Bryant looks at the work of the man who invented the art of political cartooning, and asks what effect his drawings had on one of their targets.

The world being carved up into spheres of influence between Pitt and Napoleon.If William Hogarth can be seen as the founder of modern cartoons and caricature, then the father of the modern political cartoon was James Gillray (1756-1815). He was also the first professional political war cartoonist, and in the same way that the New Zealander David Low, the Dutchman Louis Raemaekers and the Australian Will Dyson later produced some of the most memorable cartoon images of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Stalin and Kaiser Wilhelm in the twentieth century, so too did Gillray become the scourge of that other great European dictator of modern times, Napoleon Bonaparte.

James Gillray was born in Chelsea on August 13th, 1756, at the start of the Seven Years' War and died just seventeen days before the Battle of Waterloo. His father, a Scotsman, was a former professional soldier who had lost an arm while serving in the cavalry in Flanders under the Duke of Cumberland during the War of the Austrian Succession. James was the third of Five children, and the only one to survive infancy.

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