James Gillray:
A Revolution in Satire

Tim Clayton

Publicaton Date
November 2022
Standard Number
Yale University Press
408 pages, 290 x 248mm
205 colour + b/w illus.

A lavishly illustrated biography of James Gillray, inventor of the art of political caricature

James Gillray (1756–1815) was late Georgian Britain’s funniest, most inventive and most celebrated graphic satirist and continues to influence cartoonists today. His exceptional drawing, matched by his flair for clever dialogue and amusing titles, won him unprecedented fame; his sophisticated designs often parodied artists such as William Hogarth, Joshua Reynolds and Henry Fuseli, 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, aiming to identify those involved in inventing satirical prints and the people who bought them. Clayton thoughtfully explores 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.


'This refreshingly jargon-free tome should be poured over, chapter by chapter, print by print, a suitable companion as a winter of discontent draws on.' – Jacqueline Riding, Country Life

'Tim Clayton’s book is a magisterial study of a great popular artist: a full-scale interpretation of James Gillray’s output of satirical prints, and a biography that warrants comparison with the best ever done on an 18th-century artist. It has been furnished with gorgeous reproductions, along with close-ups that illuminate Gillray’s care for visual detail and his uninhibited verbal wit.' – David Bromwich, London Review of Books