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 on 06/07/2023

Sure, DerdriuMarriner, there are also many fairy tales without an absent father. Yet, several of the most popular classics, like Red Riding Hood, Cinderella (yes, he understands the daughter needs a mother, but at the same time he doesn't protect her), Snow White, etc. There are also fairy tales where the father's death triggers the action and the story actually starts with his death (like Puss in Boots, for instance).

DerdriuMarriner on 06/05/2023

This comment is one that I put on WriterArtist's recentest wizzley about great historical father figures.

It's relevant to this wizzley because you mention among your facts the absent father.

Might there be fairy tales where father figures are present and righteous and others where they are non-righteous and present?

I thought of Cinderella because, like in the Hawaiian tale The Legend of Punahou with widower Kaha'akea marrying secondly Hawea for his twin son Kauawa'ahila and daughter Kauaki'owao to have a mother, the father marries again to provide a "normal" family life and household.

Would the father to the 12 dancing princesses be a good father because he worried about where his daughters went to do what with whom or would he be a bad father for locking them in every night?

Tolovaj on 06/04/2023

Thanks, DerdriuMarriner, for this info. You are a true detective!

Tolovaj on 06/04/2023

WriterArtist, thanks for stopping by. Yes, Cruikshank was a skillful artist and he earned decent money, yet he went through several crises (some being out of his power, some caused by his wrong decisions). But only a few decades later more and more artists became able to make a good living thanks to their drawings and paintings.

Tolovaj on 06/04/2023

Yes, DerdriuMarriner, Bluebeard has an exceptional position, but for a good story, we always need a bad guy. The color of his beard is unnatural - blue is very rare in nature (sky and water a colorless, they just reflect the environment) and is often perceived as a sign of something going bad (moldy fruit, for instance). In this case, analysts believe it's probably meant as a sign of something 'out of this world', which can be seen through illustrations, where the title character is portrayed as somebody from Turkey, Persia, or a similar unfriendly country to Europeans of those times.

DerdriuMarriner on 05/31/2023

Online sources include a picture of and a paragraph about the Cruikshank stele.

The stele inscription indicates that the Cruikshank remains subsequently were removed to St. Paul's Cathedral Nov. 29, 1878. It also indicates that "his affectionate widow Elia Cruikshank" was responsible for the stele topped by a William Behnes (1795-Jan. 3, 1864) bust.

It would tell a lot about how they fared and what immediate posterity thought of Cruikshank if Eliza, Adelaide and Adelaide's children were treated as respectfully in life and death, wouldn't it?

WriterArtist on 05/30/2023

I thought making a living with cartoons was difficult but I am pleased to find that history has provided and cheered many caricaturist. Education is important but it is nice to know that one need not be dependent upon the degrees and certificates. From the photos, it is evident that he was a talented artist who was able to market his caricatures at an early age of 10.

DerdriuMarriner on 05/19/2023

It's a bit unsettling to come across an anti-hero such as Bluebeard. Hopefully, he served as an exceptional case of a bad guy getting lots of publicity that could have gone to a good guy.

Was there something in particular that made him stand out among the other animal-, people- and plant-abusing, wife-killing candidates?

Was the blue beard meant to be figurative, literal, symbolic and if so, what of?

Tolovaj on 05/14/2023

Thank you, DerdriuMarriner, for your valuable inputs.

Tolovaj on 05/14/2023

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.

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