George Cruikshank I was an English caricaturist and book illustrator. During his lifetime, he was regarded as the modern Hogarth. He became primarily known for his illustrations on several books by Charles Dickens, who was also his close friend.
George Cruikshank was born in September 1792, in London. His father, Isaac Cruikshank was one of the leading English caricaturists of the 1790s. George would start his career as his father’s assistant and apprentice. Isaac Robert, his older brother, would also follow in the family business as an illustrator and caricaturist.
Cruikshank’s early career was recognized for his social caricatures for popular publications depicting English life. He achieved notoriety for his satirical representation of the Royalty as well as leading politicians of the time. His early success was mainly boosted by his collaboration with other English artists such as Thomas Rowlandson, James Gillray, and William Hogarth, in creating the image of John Bull, a character that represents England, much like United States’ Uncle Sam. In 1819, Cruikshank contributed to William Hone’s political satire, The Political House That Jack Built. Cruikshank would replace James Gillray, one of his most significant influences, as England’s most popular satirical artist.
Cruikshank’s early work was mostly caricaturing, but at the age of 31, he began to focus on book illustration. In 1823, he would illustrate the first English translation of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales, by David Jardine and Edgar Taylor, it was published as German Popular Stories, in two volumes.
Cruikshank was friends with the highly celebrated English poet and writer Charles Dickens, for who he illustrated some of his works such as The Mudfog Papers (1837-38), Sketches by Boz (1836) and the much renowned Oliver Twist(1838). Cruikshank also acted in the amateur theatrical company ran by Dickens. Their friendship would sour due to Cruikshank’s increasingly radical position towards Teetotalism, the practice, and promotion of complete abstinence from alcoholic beverages, opposing to Dickens’ more moderate view.
Cruikshank became somewhat obsessed, for, in the late 1840s, he would radically shift his focus of work from book illustration to an obsession with anti-smoking and temperance activism. He produced several pictures for the National Temperance Society, among others. On this theme, his best-known works are The Bottle and its sequel The Drunkard’s Children, with eight plates each and the Worship of Bacchus, which is now at the Tate Gallery, in London.
During his later life, Cruikshank developed palsy, which slowly deteriorated both his health and the quality of his artwork.
George Cruikshank I died in February 1878.