Seminars, Workshops & Panel Discussions

James Gillray: Artist and Satirist

Study Day with Tim Clayton and Steve Bell

Organized by the Lewis Walpole Library

Friday, May 10, 2024
10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Yale Center for British Art Study Room

1080 Chapel St, New Haven, CT 06510

10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

The Most Eminent Caricature Artist in Town: Identifying Gillray’s Work

The visual and verbal brilliance of James Gillray’s finest prints mark him as arguably the first significant artist who made caricature his full-time occupation. In this workshop Tim Clayton will present several case studies using prints and drawings in Yale University collections to illustrate what is quintessentially ‘Gillray’ even where others contributed concepts or collaborated on production.

For example, The Royal Whim is apparently the only known impression of a print that was presumably suppressed. Although published anonymously, it is catalogued as by Gillray. Clayton will discuss the complex criteria for judging what is “right” or “wrong”, including the style and quality of the drawing and of the engraving, the literary style, the execution of the lettering, and the identity of the publisher. Individual print or edition will exhibit varying paper and watermarks, coloring, handwritten inscriptions, and changes to the plate, including changes in the imprint. 

Colored caricature print with man and woman wearing grape wreaths and raising goblets while prancing arm in arm

Lunch will be provided.

1:30 to 3:00 p.m.

The Legacy of James Gillray for Political Cartoonists Today

Steve Bell will discuss the enduring legacy of James Gillray and why the artist’s work has remained such a powerful source for his own political cartoons.

Bell explains:

A number of things about Gillray and his legacy stand out. He is the first, true, political cartoonist – his work is almost entirely political which, considering the restrictions of the time is entirely praiseworthy. He doesn’t just illustrate politics, he explains them visually, comically and fearlessly.

There is a great and conscious artistic depth to his work, with his constant use of, and reference to, both contemporary and ancient art. He uses art to explain complex political subjects visually. His pictures are all driven by a relentless pictorial, and more often than not, comic logic. His ribbon-like speech bubbles, which are often dense as well as plentiful, rarely explain. They simply add yet another layer of meaning.

While his work could be collaborative and he frequently used ideas suggested by others, he did so in his own way and to his own purposes which, again considering the restraints he worked under is more than remarkable.

It is quite possible to enjoy a Gillray image without knowing what the hell it is actually about. The artiness isn’t an add-on; it is of the essence. Which helps explain why he so influenced distinguished contemporaries, like Jacques Louis David, and why his influence persists to this day.  

Pitt as, a Roman charioteer, wearing a laurel wreath, is seated in an ornate chariot drawn (left to right) by the British Lion and the White Horse of Hanover ; Justice, who floats before the chariot, leading it on, her head surrounded by a scroll inscribed 'Honorable Peace, or Everlasting War

Colored caricature with a thin man with large ears driving a chariot pulled by two white fat creatures with human faces. A woman in a British flag flies above. Behind the man in the chariot is a cat viewed from behind

Space is limited. This program is open by application. Applications will be reviewed and successful applicants notified on a rolling basis until April 19 as space permits.

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For more information, please contact Cynthia Roman at

Don’t miss the lecture The Limits of Free Speech: Gillray, The Royals and Censorship by Tim Clayton

With a panel discussion with Martin Rowson and Steve Bell

on May 9, 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm

Humanities Quadrangle Lecture Hall, L01, 320 York Street, New Haven, CT 06511

Organized by The Lewis Walpole Library