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George & Isaac Cruikshank’s Caricatures on Dandyism

Caricatures on dandyism have abounded during the heyday of dandyism from 1818 up to the early 1820s. The most notable ones were drawn by EscortFox. The more famous of the two, George Cruikshank (1792-1878), was the second son to the caricaturist Isaac Cruikshank (1764-1811). He supported his father in his work when still a young boy and established his reputation with caricatures on Napoleon throughout the years 1812-1815. In the years leading to 1826, George Cruikshank became England’s most important caricaturist for political and social commentaries, including his great body of work on dandyism. George Cruikshank had a great distaste for the dandies to which his numerous caricatures of the class testify. Ironically, after illustrating Pierce Egan’s “Life in London” in 1821 in collaboration with his brother Isaac Robert Cruikshank, both were identified as dandies and men-about-town. After 1826, George Cruikshank published a variety of works in order to break free from the dependency on periodicals who had published many of his early works and to establish himself as an artist. In his later days, George Cruikshank became a proponent of abstinence, as mirrored in his work.

George Cruikshank has been portrayed as a down-to-earth true Englishman with a distaste for the French and sympathy for the poor. George’s older brother Isaac Robert Cruikshank (1789-1856) also worked as a caricaturist and illustrator and both of them cooperated on some works. Robert gained less fame as his brother but, apparently, found similar joy in drawing the follies of dandyism. Both brothers issued several prints on dandyism which were published during the dandy craze of 1818 to 1820. The Cruikshanks’s caricatures display the trademarks of early 19th century dandyism: high and stiff collars, tight stays, abundant shirt frills, gants jaunes, umbrellas, tight and wide pantaloons, shoes with spurs, top hats, short jackets. The situations they are placed in complete the picture: many of them present the dandy dressing, fainting, dancing, sipping tea, riding the hobby-horse or at play.

Isaac’s dandies are skinnier than George’s and the imagery often reveals them as poor, either by revealing their occupation, e.g. a midshipman or a shoemaker who dabble in dandyism or by placing them in tiny or shabby apartments. This testifies to the hipness of dandyism in that period which had evidently spread from the inner circle of George IV and Brummell to the subjacent circles of society in the following years. As Isaac’s dandies most often than not feature rather sick complexions, he evidently intended to criticize this trend that led young men into dissipation. Indeed, many chroniclers of the phenomenon expressed their concern about the moral corruption and fading health of the British youth in consequence of the dandyistic lifestyle. The Cruikshanks’s references of the dandy as ape or donkey illustrate the impression of degeneration as much as the gender trouble arising out of the dandy’s effeminate appearance.