The Meeting of Britannia & Citizen François

The golden age of English caricature, extending from the late 1770s to the second decade of the 19th century, encompasses the life of its leading exponent, James Gillray (1756-1815), who contributed in no small measure to the brilliance and audacity of the political, personal, and social satires of this period. Gillray subjected all the key political figures of his day, along with the King, Queen, Prince of Wales, and assorted aristocracy, to his witty, telling, and often outrageous exaggerations, elaborations, and confabulations and, in the process, transformed the then new genre of personal caricature into high art.

Here, Gillray's subject is the Treaty of Paris, which was signed in March 1802. However, Napoleon continued his territorial expansion, annexing Piedmont, Elba, Parma, and Switzerland, justifying Gillray's cynical view of the treaty. Gillray plays upon national stereotypes: a tall, thin, fashionably dressed French suitor pays court to a plump, opulently dressed Britannia. Shield and trident set aside, she is won over by his charm, but knows he "would deceive [her] again." In the background, portraits of George III (Gillray's first of the King since his pension began in 1797) and Napoleon regard each other warily. Napoleon was said to be very amused by this print.

James Gillray. The First Kiss This Ten Years! "” or "” The Meeting of Britannia & Citizen François. Etching, aquatint, and roulette, hand-colored, with additional scoring of the plate, January 1, 1803. Published by Hannah Humphrey.
The New York Public Library, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Print Collection.

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