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James Gillray: A Revolution in Satire - 2023 Berger Prize winner

Professor Deborah Swallow CBE presents the 2023 Berger Prize to author Timothy Clayton (credit: Robin Simon)

At a ceremony at London's Society of Antiquaries on 29 November, Professor Deborah Swallow CBE presented the 2023 Berger Prize to:

Timothy Clayton

James Gillray: A Revolution in Satire

Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

James Gillray (1756-1815) was late Georgian Britain’s funniest, most inventive and most celebrated graphic satirist and continues to influence cartoonists today. His brilliant drawing, matched by his flair for clever dialogue and amusing titles, won him unprecedented fame as a political satirist; his sophisticated designs parodied artists of the day such as William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds, while he borrowed and wittily redeployed celebrated passages from William Shakespeare and John Milton to send up politicians in an age – as now – where society was fast changing, anxieties abounded, truth was sometimes scarce, and public opinion mattered.

Tim Clayton’s definitive biography explores Gillray’s life and work through his friends, publishers – the most important being women – and collaborators. Clayton’s compelling narrative reveals the tensions between artistic independence, financial necessity and the conflicting demands of patrons and self-appointed censors in a time of political and social turmoil, also recreating the networks that invented satirical prints and the emerging markets for them.

Gillray’s first satires addressed the American War of Independence; during the libertine 1780s he was involved in the creation of previously unknown erotic prints as well as daring attacks on the royal family; later his prints reflected the anxious state of Britain as revolutionary France abolished both monarchy and church. During the long wars against Napoleon, Gillray was recruited to work for various politicians, and this book traces their growing recognition of the importance of public opinion and the role of propaganda in war.

Including previously unseen work, James Gillray: A Revolution in Satire reveals how the artist cast a sardonic eye over the rich ironies of the age of revolution, creating prints that continue to be celebrated for their technical brilliance and daring wit, and that remain hilarious to this day.

Reviewers have heaped praise on the book. David Bromwich in The London Review of Books called it "a biography that warrants comparison with the best ever done on an 18th century artist". Martin Rowson in The Guardian said that "this massive and masterly book is breathtaking" and it was "a monumental achievement" for Roger Malbert in The Art Newspaper.


For more information and reviews, visit the author's website.

From 2002-23 the Berger Prize was administered by Professor Robin Simon, editor of The British Art Journal.


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