George Cruikshank

by Tolovaj

George Cruikshank was an influential but also controversial caricaturist and illustrator. Let's see a few interesting facts from his life and work.

George Cruikshank (1792-1878) from London was probably the most influential caricaturist and illustrator of the 19th century. His work was praised by the masses and feared by the social elite. Many generations of illustrators learned from him. Cruikshank's numerous changes in the field of caricature and illustration survived the test of time and are still taken into account today.

Let's present the top 10 facts from his life and work.

Private Life

1. Artistic Family

George Cruikshank was born into a family of artists. His father Isaac was a caricaturist, an etcher, and an engraver with his own printing company where he made designs, George and his older brother Robert added details, mother Mary, and sister Eliza colored printed products.


This is how Cruikshank portrayed scenes from Hop-o-my-Thumb (above) and Cinderella (below). He liked to add some text to illustrations.

2. No Formal Education

George Cruikshank never got past elementary school. It was simply too much to do in his father's company. On the other hand, he had an opportunity to be involved in the complete creative process of his father, who was skilled and pretty successful (brother Robert too), and be in contact with some of the most established artists and editors of the time because many of them came to Isaac's firm.

George successfully implied all learned tricks of the trade to his talent and developed an extreme sense for spotting the details. He practiced drawing scenes from the neighborhood, especially different social situations, and was able to sell his first drawings when he was only ten years old.

Portrait of George Cruikshank
George Cruikshank portrait
3. From Alcoholic to Teetotaler

Alcohol played a large part in the lives of the family Cruikshank. Isaac died of intoxication when George was only 19 years old. He and his brother, both already heavy drinkers by the same time became breadwinners of the family.

Through the next years, George struggled with the consequences of alcoholism which could be seen in every part of his environment. His brother became an alcoholic and George had several health issues as well.

Finally, he decided to not only stop drinking but try to convince everybody else about the dangers of alcohol. He joined the Temperance League, an organization with the idea of banning alcohol consumption in the entire of England. George created hundreds of drawings and paintings with the theme of alcoholism and its devastating consequences on society.

Oil painting The Worship of Bacchus by George Cruikshank
The Worship of Bacchus
4. Twice Married

George Cruikshank married Mary Ann Walker (1807–1849) when he was already 35 years old (she was only 20 and such an age difference was pretty normal at the time. Two years after her death he remarried. Eliza Widdison (1807-1890) became his second wife and later a widow. Both marriages were childless.

5. Father of 11

George Cruikshank still managed to become a father. House servant Adelaide Attree (1830-?) became pregnant in 1850. In Victorian England something like that was not appropriate for a single woman, so she had to leave but was set in the neighborhood only a few houses away. George was the father, he improvised a working studio in her house and provided as much as he can to maintain two households. Adelaide gave birth to eleven of his children with the last being born only about two years before George's death.


Above we can see a title page from Cruikshank's Pentamerone.


6. Superb Caricaturist and One of the Fathers of the Comics

George Cruikshank became a successful caricaturist at an early age. He learned from then-leading satirical caricaturist James Gillray and soon surpassed his skills. One of the details in Gillray's work was speech balloons very similar to today's speech balloons in comic strips. Such 'invention' was already used in Middle Ages but later fell out of fashion due to the rise of Realism.

7. The Royal Family

King George IV and his wife Queen Caroline both indulged in extramarital affairs whet was an easy target, a so-called sitting duck for Cruikshank's caricatures. His drawings of scenes from the life of the royal couple were so popular the king offered him one hundred pounds (a lot of money for those times) if he stopped portraying the sovereign in immoral situations.

Being paid for work is good, being paid a lot for good work is great, and being paid for not working is the best.

8. Charles Dickens

Cruikshank and Dickens were good friends at the beginning. Cruikshank illustrated several works by one of the greatest writers ever, including the first edition of Oliver Twist. Cruikshank, who was also a talented actor, played a few parts in Dickens' amateur theater.

When Dickens established his own magazine, their professional collaboration stopped and their friendship went south when Cruikshank started promoting prohibition. After Dickens' death, Cruikshank claimed most of the authorship of Oliver Twist's plot, which still rise some controversion.

9. Hyperproductivity

George Cruikshank designed tens of thousands of drawings and illustrated about 850 (!) books. To be honest many of his works were republished under different titles, but his extreme productivity despite his active membership in Temperance League is still almost unbelievable.

Yet Cruikshank, who also established his magazine, had a lot of expenses, and together with bad business decisions and a waning ability to draw due to developed palsy (loss of control of the muscle movements) for most of his life fought financial troubles.


The Wonderful Story of Bluebeard and his wife was done in Cruikshank's characteristic humorous style. Due his speed of work he really didn't bother with complex symbolism of Bluebeard.

Below it's his take on Puss in Boots, resembling the approach from comic strips.

10. Outdated?

While we must conclude that Cruikshank definitely became the most influential illustrator of the 19th century (his drawings were never just presentations of the scenes from the stories and often offered completely new dimensions and interpretations), his works, once praised as top art of the time today look racist and sexist.

Graphic credits:

Updated: 04/16/2023, Tolovaj
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Tolovaj 20 days ago

Thank you, DerdriuMarriner, for your valuable inputs.

Tolovaj 20 days ago

DerdriuMarriner, unfortunately, it's, very hard to find decent data about George's mother and sister. I'm sure they were affected at least as relatives, living under the same roof.

Tolovaj 20 days ago

Thank you, Veronica, for your comment. Always appreciated:)

Tolovaj 20 days ago

Hi, frankbeswick, thanks for stopping by. As I understand there are several different diseases called palsy. There's shaking palsy (Parkinson's) and cerebral palsy, both not necessarily related to the palsy George Cruikshank suffered from. I doubt his condition was diagnosed by today's standards. Wish you well!

DerdriuMarriner on 05/03/2023

Your second fact, No Formal Education, brings up the fact that Cruikshank "practiced drawing scenes from the neighborhood."

So I checked internet sources for any extant Cruikshank residence to consider what kind of neighborhood he lived in.

The Cruikshank reputation is such that his residence at 293 Hampstead Road Camden Town is blue-plaqued.

The residence, of which there is an image on Wikimedia Commons, looks nice. It takes up four stories, with perhaps a full basement and a useable roof-top.

The plaque was placed within 7 years of his living there, 1850-1878.

Would it be possible that perhaps his parents and siblings occupied other floors there?

DerdriuMarriner on 05/01/2023

The seventh fact, The Royal Family, amazes me in the name-calling.

The last bit of writing informs us "Ah! sure such a pair was never seen so justly formed to meet by nature." The last line of two lines after that observation looks like "Dedicated to Old Bags." But what occurs in the first line?

DerdriuMarriner on 04/27/2023

The first fact, Artistic Family, ends with the observation that "He liked to add some text to illustrations."

It's an attractive calligraphy under your sample illustrations. It seems not at all the handwriting of one with a limited education.

There seems to be a tendency to capitalize nouns. However...why would Brothers and Giant Ogre be capitalized in Hop o' my Thumb but not wife?!

DerdriuMarriner on 04/26/2023

The ninth fact, Hyperproductivity, brought to mind another question to put with my previous comment. But the computer crashed ;-{.

Would there not have been copyright issues with Cruikshank publishing an illustration in one place and republishing it elsewhere?

DerdriuMarriner on 04/25/2023

The ninth fact indicates that Cruikshank "designed tens of thousands of drawings and illustrated about 850 (!) books" even as "many of his works were republished under different titles."

Would there by any count as to how many drawings and book-illustrations he actually did, minus republications?

DerdriuMarriner on 04/24/2023

The second fact, 2. No Formal Education, ends with the revelation that Cruikshank was just a 10-year-old when he sold his first drawings.

Would there be any information anywhere about what those drawings were about and where they appeared?

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