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Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe ('Black-Dick turn'd taylor')

1 portrait of George Humphrey

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe ('Black-Dick turn'd taylor')

by James Gillray, published by George Humphrey
hand-coloured etching, published 4 February 1788
9 1/4 in. x 8 7/8 in. (235 mm x 227 mm) plate size; 9 5/8 in. x 9 3/8 in. (243 mm x 239 mm) paper size
Purchased, 1947
Reference Collection
NPG D12371

Sitterback to top

Artistsback to top

  • James Gillray (1756-1815), Caricaturist. Artist associated with 881 portraits, Sitter in 7 portraits.
  • George Humphrey (active 1783-1831), Publisher and printseller; nephew of Hannah Humphrey. Artist associated with 88 portraits, Sitter associated with 1 portrait.

This portraitback to top

This is a historic work of art which reflects the attitudes and viewpoints of the time in which it was made. Whilst these may differ from today's attitudes, this image is an important historical document.

Richard Howe rose through the ranks of the Royal Navy, becoming Commander-in-Chief during the American War of Independence (1775-83), and eventually rising to First Lord of the Admiralty (1783-88). This print satirises Howe at a time when his promotion of junior officers over more senior men was so unpopular that it occasioned debates in Parliament and personal attacks in the press. Howe was also criticised around this time for his regulation of naval uniforms, which Gillray mocks through this depiction of Howe as an obsessive tailor, hunched over a pile of sewing.
The moniker 'Black Dick' referenced in the title is the nickname given to Howe by the men serving under him. In the berth beneath him is a figure if the Devil, whose speech indicated that it is he who controls Howe's actions: "And I'll have a general Reform soon, as I shall get you before you are aware of it. I've ting'd your Heart so may safely leave you to go on."

For this central figure Gillray drew on the on the then-common Western iconography of a black Devil, which had its basis in Christian theological theories and religious imagery of brightness (whiteness) as a sign of holiness, and darkness (blackness) as a sign of evil. The grotesquely caricatured black imp on the left roasts a hawk, a reference to Howe's rejection of the methods of Sir Edward Hawke, under whom Howe had served at the beginning of his career.

Placesback to top

Events of 1788back to top

Current affairs

Parliament begins an investigation into the slave trade, led by reformers Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce.
Regency Crisis; George III's madness is announced provoking a political storm.
Former Governor-General of Bengal Warren Hastings' trial begins before the House of Lords.
Henry Benedict Stuart becomes the new Stuart claimant to the British throne.

Art and science

Artist Thomas Gainsborough dies.
First edition of The Times newspaper is published in London.
Scottish engineer and inventor William Symington demonstrates the first paddle steamer on Dalswinton Loch near Dumfries.
Robert Burns writes his version of the Scots poem Auld Lang Syne.

International

Ministers of the French King, Louis XVI, reluctantly announce that the Estates General will meet the following year, for the first time since 1614.
United States constitution comes into force when New Hampshire becomes the ninth state to ratify it.
First Fleet reaches Australia, anchoring in Botany Bay. Arthur Phillip, selecting a suitable site for the first Australian penal colony, names the place Sydney Cove.

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