James Gillray was born in August of 1756 or 1757. He is regarded as the father of political cartoons and as one of the most important and influential cartoonists of all time, along with William Hogarth. Gillray was born in London. In his early life, he learned letter-engraving, a method which he soon became proficient. Due to finding his job irksome, Gillray left it to travel for a period along with a group of wandering actors. After a not so fortunate experience, he returned to London and soon enrolled at the Royal Academy as a student, whilst making his living out of engraving and probably issuing several caricatures under pseudonyms.
Most of Gillray’s caricatures were made in etching, often using aquatint and stipple, although they are loosely described as engraving, this is incorrect, for they were made lacking the use of a burin, a tool to carve the metal plate. Gillray was very fond of William Hogarth’s work, which was an important source of influence and reference to study. Paddy on Horseback is the earliest caricature which is certainly his and dates from 1779. Gillray issued two caricatures on Admiral Rodney in 1782, following the naval victory in Battle of the Saintes. They are among the earliest memorable series of Gillray’s political cartoons.
His career and life are intimately related to Hannah Humphrey’s, his publisher and seller. Gillray lived with Ms. Humphrey throughout his fame. Scholars believe that he often thought about marrying her, stating that one time he gave up as they were heading to the church. His printing plates were exposed in Ms. Humphrey’s shop windows as crowds rounded up, eager to examine his artworks. His print Very Slippy Weather depicts Ms. Humphrey shop, where a group of people looks at some of his previous works, such as Tiddy Doll the Great French Gingerbread Maker Drawing Out a New Batch of Kings His Man Hopping Talley Mixing Up the Dough, a satire on some of Napoleon’s king-making politics.
Gillray’s eyesight began to fail by his 50s. Although using spectacles, they were not satisfactory, hurting his overall quality and his previous high standards, which pushed him into heavy drinking and depression. His last print was produced in 1809. His last work was never finished, for he became mad and would work in his momentary glimpse of reason. The artist attempted to kill himself by jumping off Ms. Humphrey’s attic. After that, he completely fell into insanity and was looked after by his lifelong friend, Ms. Humphrey until his death. James Gillray died in 1815 in London.