Thursday, December 24, 2009

James Gillray. “Two Pair of Portraits;” – presented to all the unbiassed Electors of Great Britain, by John Horne Tooke. Published by John Wright.

Although Gillray’s work was generally bipartisan, he received a pension of £200 by the Tory-led government to produce anti-Whig propaganda between 1797 and 1801. In this complex print published in 1798 for the Anti-Jacobin Review Gillray lives up to his expectation as a political propagandist for the Tories by ridiculing John Horne Tooke and his support of Charles James Fox (British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs) and The Whig party. Tooke had switched political allegiances. Previously he had been a conservative journalist and politician and had written an essay entitled Two Pair of Portraits in 1788, which championed William Pitt the Elder and Younger and denounced Fox and his father, Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland.

In his print, Gillray attempts to discredit Tooke by exposing him as a hypocrite. He entitled his print “Two Pair of Portraits” as a direct allusion to Tooke’s pamphlet, in which Tooke attacked the very same figures he now supported. In the illustration, we see two portraits placed on an easel, one of Fox as the personification of vice next to a portrait of Pitt as the embodiment of honesty, followed by portraits of their fathers, Lord Holland and William Pitt senior displayed below. Gillray also includes the final lines of this pamphlet in a bubble emerging from Tooke’s mouth. Tooke is surrounded in the etching by other questionable and dramatic characters such as Wilkes, Robespierre and Machiavelli. It has been argued that “Two Pair of Portraits” may also be a masked self-portrait and critique of Gillray’s own role as a paid political propagandist. His message may have been that he was no better than Tooke whom he was ridiculing.

LC 28: 1.1

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