Isaac Cruikshank (1764–1811), Scottish painter and caricaturist, was born in Edinburgh and had most of his career in London. Cruikshank is known for his social and political satire. His sons Isaac Robert Cruikshank (1789–1856) and George Cruikshank (1792–1878) also became artists, and the latter in particular achieved fame as an illustrator and caricaturist.
Isaac Cruikshank was born in 1764 to Elizabeth Davidson (born c.1725), daughter of a gardener, and Andrew Crookshanks (c.1725–c.1783), a former customs inspector, dispossessed for his role in the Jacobite uprising of 1745. Isaac studied with a local artist, possibly John Kay (1742–1826).
In 1783 Cruikshank left Scotland to travel to London with his master. There he married Mary MacNaughton (1769–1853) in 1788. The couple had five known children, two of whom died in infancy. A daughter, Margaret Eliza, also a promising artist, died at the age of eighteen. Their sons Isaac Robert Cruikshank (1789–1856) and George Cruikshank (1792–1878) also became artists.
Cruikshank's first known publications were etchings of Edinburgh "types", from 1784. He produced illustrations for books about the theatre, did the frontispiece for Witticisms and Jests of Dr Johnson (1791), and illustrated George Shaw's extensive General Zoology (1800–26). His watercolours were exhibited, but in order to make a living, he found it more lucrative to produce prints and caricatures. He was responsive to the marketplace but firm in his dislikes of Napoleon and political radicals. He and James Gillray developed the figure of John Bull, the nationalistic representation of a solid British yeoman.
Publisher John Roach was a friend and patron. Cruikshank later also worked with print dealer S. W. Fores and Johnny Fairburn. He also collaborated, with G. M. Woodward, and later, with his son George. (See also G.S. Tregear.)
Cruikshank died of alcohol poisoning at the age of fifty-five as a result of a drinking contest. He is buried near his home in London.
A contemporary of James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson, Cruikshank was part of what has been called "the Golden Age of British Caricature." Some have called his work "uneven" but at its best, it provides a vivid insight into the cultural and political preoccupations of the British during the decades at the turn of the nineteenth century.
"Crying for a New Toy", a caricature of Napoleon attributed to Cruikshank (1803)
- Robert L. Patten, “Cruikshank , Isaac (1764–1811),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. (Oxford: OUP, 2004. 11 May 2007.)
- Cruikshank's work at the National Portrait Gallery
- Isaac Cruikshank at Artcyclopedia
- Isaac Cruikshank - Cartoons
- Connected Histories: British History Sources, 1500-1900 This JISC-funded web service provides federated searching of online historical resources for research. The web link provides access to primary sources which refer to Isaac Cruikshank.
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- The British Museum, the Huntington Library in California, and The Houghton Library at Harvard University all have significant holdings of Cruikshank's work.
- George, Mary Dorothy. Hogarth to Cruikshank: Social Change in Graphic Satire. 1967.
- Nygren, Edward J., ed. Isaac Cruikshank and the Politics of Parody: Watercolors in the Huntington Collection. University of California Press, 2005. ISBN 0-87328-147-0; ISBN 978-0-87328-147-8
- Patten, Robert L.. “Cruikshank , Isaac (1764–1811).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 11 May 2007.