If you enter the pantheon of great cartoonists of the “Long Eighteenth Century” you expect to find Hogarth, Gillray, and Rowlandson. But in the corner there has to be room for a man who died at the ridiculously early age of 28, and yet who produced some splendidly scurrilous cartoons aimed at the Royal Family – and in particular at Queen Caroline, consort of George IV.
That man is Theodore Lane and he was born in 1800 at Isleworth, in Middlesex. He was largely self taught as an artist, although he must have received encouragement from his father, who had been a drawing master at Worcester. At 14 he was apprenticed to the minature painter John Barrow at Battle Bridge. He studied watercolour portraits and miniatures, exhibiting at the Royal Academy from 1819. He eventually approached Pierce Egan ( a writer of articles on the London scene) with half a dozen sketches entitled Life of an Actor and these were published in 1824.
There followed a series of etchings and woodcuts on sporting themes. Here are a few:
Rackets at King’s Bench Prison
Wallace the Lion fights Tinker and Ball in the factory yard in the town of Warwick
He also painted in oils and exhibited on at least two occasions at the Royal Academy (in 1827 and 1828) – including this one entitled The Enthusiast (or, The Gouty Angler).
But for my money I rate the man for his splendid cartoons poking fun at Queen Caroline (originally Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, wife of George IV). She, poor dear, was treated monstrously by George IV (including being banished from his coronation) but for her part she was hardly blameless and had reputedly lived openly in exile with her Italian lover Bartolomeo Pergami. Lane delighted in portraying the Queen as an object of derision – fat, short and extremely ugly. Pergami as the be-whiskered lover is made to look idiotic. Great stuff! The etchings are all © National Portrait Gallery, London.
Installation of a Knight Companion of the Bath
The Knight Companion being installed in the Bath was done at a time when a Commission had been set up to consider whether the Queen was in an adulterous relationship with Pergami; representatives had travelled to Italy where the couple were living, and servants were bribed to give information (hence the two figures watching the scene from behind the half-closed door).
And to finish this particular series, Lane’s take on the Queen’s attempt to ‘gatecrash’ the Royal coronation, which took place in 1821:
These pictures ridiculing Caroline were all exhibited for sale at the print shop of George Humphrey, as in this picture of the shop by Theodore Lane entitled ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ (the motto of the Royal Order of the Garter).
All was going swimmingly well for the young cartoonist: he was a sociable chap who was always to be found in some coffee house or another, often in the company of journalists, actors, and sportsmen. Then one day (21 May 1828) Theodore accidentally fell through a skylight at the Horse Bazaar in Gray’s Inn Lane, smashing the back of his head against the pavement. I have no idea why he was walking across the skylight, but the accident was fatal. He was buried a week later at Old St. Pancras Church leaving behind a wife and two children.
A tragic shame – he would have had a field day with Prince Albert and Queen Victoria had he lived!
(P.S. To finish with, two more anti-Caroline cartoons, the one in colour by Lane entitled An Armfull of Love shows the diminutive Queen standing on a stool to pucker up to to her ludicrous suitor , and the other by Cruikshank called The Long and the Short of the Tale’ ridiculing the difference in height in much the same way).
(P.P.S. My special thanks to Anita Renaud for gently pointing out that in its original form this post had muddled Queen Charlotte (wife of George III) with Queen Caroline (estranged wife of George IV). I was always hopeless at girls’ names….)