Isaac Cruikshank

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"Indecency", a caricature by Isaac Cruikshank. Published in London by S.W. Fores, 1799.

Isaac Cruikshank (1764–1811), Scottish painter and caricaturist, was born in Edinburgh. 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. Cruikshank is known for his social and political satire.

His parents were 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. He studied with a local artist, possibly John Kay (1742–1826), and travelled with his master to London in 1783. He married Mary MacNaughton (1769–1853) in 1788 and 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.

As shown in this cartoon by Cruikshank, the guillotine became a disparaging symbol of violent French excesses as tens of thousands of political opponents were executed during the Reign of Terror in the 1790s

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 it was 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 Gillray developed the figure of John Bull, the nationalistic representation of a solid British yeoman.

Publisher John Roach was a friend and patron, and he later 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 and is buried near his home in London.

Isaac Cruikshank was a contemporary of James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson, and he was part of what has been called "the Golden Age of British Caricature." Some have called his work "uneven"[1] 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.



  1. ^ 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.)

Electronic resources[edit]


  • 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.