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Cruikshank's Alcoholics and The Addict in Austerity

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Paul Mellon Centre

16 Bedford Square

London

WC1B 3JA

United Kingdom

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Research Lunch by Susannah Walker

George Cruikshank’s series, The Bottle (1847) and, it’s sequel, The Drunkard’s Children (1848) present the apparently ruinous consequences of alcohol consumption. In these stark yet melodramatic narrative sequences, convivial drinking inevitably spirals into all-consuming addiction.

These works were a departure from the alcohol fuelled sociability of Cruikshank’s youth and his family circle. The Bottle and The Drunkard’s Children also indicated a shift from his earlier engagement with a range of potentially disruptive graphic forms: transgressive physical satire in the tradition of James Gillray, radical political agitation in his collaborations with William Hone and immersion in urban hedonism with the illustrations for Pierce Egan’s Life in London produced in collaboration with his brother Robert. By contrast, the Victorian temperance sequences emerged within a changing social order where respectability, morality and self-control were gaining currency. Amid the revolutionary fervour of European politics, the British political establishment and its critics alike frequently adopted languages of self-regulation.

This paper will argue that the bodies of Cruikshank’s alcoholics appealed to their contemporary viewers as sites where excess and disorder could be imagined in a dominant culture of control. This is emphasized in his evocation of physically and emotionally charged dramas with a deliberately limited set of pictorial means. Economical yet eloquent line and tone represent the alcoholic as a spare, deprived yet overindulged and insatiable body. Was the contemporary resonance of these prints, therefore, indebted to their sophisticated projection of lost inhibition within visual and moral economies of austerity?

Biography

I am an art practitioner, art historian and Teaching Fellow in Art History at UCL. I studied at the Courtauld Institute (BA 2002) and at UCL (MA 2003 and later PhD). My PhD "Order and Pleasure in the Lithographic Work of Nicolas-Toussaint Charlet (1792-1845)" was awarded in 2012 and engaged with the memory of war in post-Napoleonic France.

Inspired by the students on my undergraduate course on art in London and Paris 1700-1850, my research has turned to British print culture of the same period, notably George Cruikshank's practice, and I am currently working on a short book under the title: Cruikshank in Counter-Culture some of which will be presented in this lecture.

I am also collaborating with the British Museum's Department of Prints and Drawings to catalogue a section of their large collection of George Cruikshank's work. My academic interests have a strong connection to larger social issues and I am committed to communicating my research to a wider audience.

Image credit: Cruikshank's The Drunkard's Children, UCL Art Museum

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Paul Mellon Centre

16 Bedford Square

London

WC1B 3JA

United Kingdom

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