Anglo-French Encounters: National Identity and Graphic Satire 1688-1815.
My book is concerned with the transmission of an influential and variegated body of work that crystallised in the eighteenth century and which helped to define the nation by making an externalised other exist visually. This ‘externalised other’ is the French and where recent approaches to this type of subject have emphasised imperial contexts my book argues, on the contrary, that the most persuasive images of alterity actually issued from European contexts and that they were found in depictions of the French. Where existing studies consider the French narrowly and within shorter periods of time, my approach, on the contrary, is broad and inter-medial. I emphasise the interplay between indigenous traditions and cosmopolitan networks to show how this type of graphic satire resulted from dialectical, cross-channel processes where concepts of the French and the anti-french interacted in complex ways.
The book starts with the Glorious Revolution and satires that turned around the French King, Louis XIV. The anti-gallican materials examined here circulated as a trans-national political culture. Their distribution was facilitated by a Huguenot diaspora spread over different European locations including England, for a sizeable community of Huguenots had emigrated to London. This period added new concepts to an existing fund of ‘anti-popery’ and as pictorial satires of the French evolved indigenous traditions that were specific to Britain the ideas would remain active and useful.
Chapter 2 examines ‘Animals for the French’. The use of animals as a mode of signification for satirising national subjects was a 17th century legacy and after a period of eclipse the strategy was revived, notably during the Premiership of Sir Robert Walpole (1721-42). At various points in the 18th- century the French were characterised as foxes, wolves, tigers, apes, snakes, frogs, locusts, crocodiles and spiders. My chapter focuses on the fox and the ape. It argues that satiric animality helped graphic satirists make visible ideas of French character and that in projecting Frenchness as a physiognomy animal characters would play a part in the crystallisation of a modern, secular iconography for the French.
This important development is the subject of Chapter 3, called ‘Hogarth’s French’. William Hogarth’s pictorial inventions are among the most influential of the 18th century but they have received little sustained attention as a set of visual characters who were useful in perpetuating ideas of national difference. Hogarth’s French characters are investigated in relation to the pictorial legacies of animality that are explored in chapter 2 but also in relation to a discursive construction of French character as it was being formulated in contemporary comparative texts, where the French were being defined against the English as ‘léger’ or lightweight. As visual prototypes of alterity, Hogarth’s French highlight ideas of proximity, of the lived-in status of the French as immigrants, the economic migrants or the ‘snakes in the clover’ of British society.
Chapter 4 is called ‘Caricature and the French’ and it explores how hogarthian legacies were transformed by the vogue for amateur sketching and the rise of grand tour caricature in the late 1760s, as well as by the arrival of the public exhibition which regularly included humorous drawings of the French. The chapter highlights the French satires of Englishmen like Henry Bunbury but considers them alongside the competing designs of an eclectic group of francophone and/or foreign artists who were resident in London and who at the forefront of designing, publishing and exhibiting national satires in the 1770s and 1780s. This group includes Samuel Grimm, Charles Brandoin, Philippe de Loutherbourg and Thomas Rowlandson.
The main question my book asks is how did 18th-century visual satires create and sustain ideas about the French? The study gives a central place to the designs of William Hogarth but it also shows how the seminal images of the century belonged to a more vibrant visual culture than has hitherto been recognised. Four chapters are shown to generate important repertories of form and how these iconographies would be deployed during the 1790s is the subject of a final chapter which is called ‘Revolutionary French’. In existing studies, this period is usually taken to be the starting point for national satire but in my study the Revolutionary period is presented as an end-point. Having demonstrated how a highly diversified iconography progressively took shape over the course of the eighteenth century, the chapter concentrates on how an eclectic repertory of form would be adapted and extended to confront the new political realities of Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary France.
Overall, I would say that was what is distinct about my approach is that I highlight how British satirical imagery of the French was made possible by two powerful systems of easy cross-channel exchange: the migration of artists and the movement of prints. The visual satires I discuss are, therefore, situated within the broader dynamics of European exchange and they are examined for their mediation of a wide range of materials – textual and pictorial, satiric and non-satiric, local and transnational. The book is work of art history. It looks closely at the crystallisation of nationally specific visual repertories; it traces their development and explores how they function, paying attention to ideas of metaphoricity, movement and migration. As the century progresses, French satires spread across pictorial categories (drawings, paintings and prints) and start to operate within different aesthetic registers, seeking the complicity of different publics and transmitting a cultural legacy that is more elusive than it has been made to appear. In recovering the cosmopolitan dimensions of Anglo-French subjects my book hopes to make an important contribution to existing scholarship which has traditionally homogenised satirical production to the activities of British-born artists, and precisely at those moments when this type of graphic production was displaying such diversity.