© National Portrait Gallery, London
Edmund Burke ('Cincinnatus in retirement')
by James Gillray, published by Elizabeth d'Achery Click on the links below to find out more
hand-coloured etching, published 23 August 1782
9 7/8 in. x 13 5/8 in. (251 mm x 346 mm) paper size
- Edmund Burke (1729 or 1730-1797), Statesman. Sitter associated with 103 portraits.
- Elizabeth d'Achery (active 1782). Artist associated with 11 portraits.
- James Gillray (1756-1815), Caricaturist. Artist associated with 881 portraits, Sitter in 7 portraits.
This satire uses a number of witty details to ridicule Edmund Burke, the Dublin born politician and writer. He is depicted as an Irish Jesuit because of his support for the unpopular 1778 Relief Act which relaxed long-standing restrictions on the political and civil rights of Catholics. Burke had recently retired from government after the death of his political patron, the Tory Lord Rockingham, and the title of the print makes an ironic reference to the honour of the Roman dictator who returned to his plough after saving his country. Catholicism and the poverty of the Irish are parodied through the inclusion of a mutilated crucifix, a picture of a monk preaching to fishes and the steaming potatoes Burke eats from a chamber pot, labelled as a relic of St Peter. The demons dancing under the table - a reference to perceived Catholic superstition - appear for the first time here but were to become a Gillray staple.
Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford resigns as Prime Minister over recent setbacks in America and is succeeded by Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham who takes office for the second time. Rockingham dies on 1 July and is succeeded by William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne.Repeal of Poynings Law and Declaratory Act of 1720 gives virtual legislative autonomy to Ireland.
Art and science
After a poor reception in the mid 1770s, actress Sarah Siddons makes a triumphant return to the Drury Lane Theatre, London in the title role of Isabella, or, The Fatal Marriage
. She will become the century's best known tragic actress. Clergyman and artist William Gilpin publishes Observations on the River Wye
; a central text in the formulation of the concept of the picturesque.
American War of Independence: Siege of Gibraltar reaches a climax in the Grand Assault but French and Spanish forces are unsuccessful. Britain loses Minorca prompting the Prime Minister, Lord Rockingham, to open peace talks with the Americans. Thomas Grenville is sent to Paris to negotiate with Benjamin Franklin. Paper manufacturer Joseph Montgolfier sends a hot-air balloon 1000 meters into the air, in front of a crowd in the Ardèche in France.