Caricature comes to England

Caricatures capture the likeness of a person in a few quick strokes. They work by exaggerating and distorting prominent physical features to create an image that is both immediately recognisable and amusing. The art of caricature was developed in Italy in the seventeenth century- ­ the word 'caricature' is thought to originate from the Italian word caricare meaning 'to exaggerate' ­ and caricature was introduced to England in the late 1730s by wealthy gentlemen who had made a Grand Tour of Europe. They returned with bundles of sketches as mementos of their trip.


Thomas Bentley, by Pier Leone Ghezzi, 1725 or 1726 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Thomas Bentley
by Pier Leone Ghezzi
1725 or 1726
NPG D4501

King George II, by George Townshend, 4th Viscount and 1st Marquess Townshend, 1751-1758 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

King George II
by George Townshend, 4th Viscount and 1st Marquess Townshend
1751-1758
NPG 4855(2)

Ghezzi was an Italian caricaturist in Rome, where he sketched a handful of British tourists, including this one of Thomas Bentley, librarian of Trinity College, Cambridge. The English engraver Arthur Pond saw the commercial potential of caricatures, and published twenty-six prints after sketches by Ghezzi and earlier masters of the art, including Annibale Carracci. The prints proved enormously popular in England. George Townshend, a professional soldier and later, fourth Viscount Townsend, was one of the first gentlemen in England to take up caricature as an amateur pastime. His contemporary Horace Walpole noted that: 'His genius for likeness in caricature is astonishing'. His caricatures were often motivated by personal grievances, and he was said to 'adorn the shutters, walls and napkins of every tavern in Pall Mall with caricatures'. Many of his caricatures were engraved and published, bringing this amateur artist to a wider public.

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