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George Cruikshank - A Great Victorian Illustrator

Updated on March 3, 2019
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Robert writes eclectic and informative articles about a variety of historical subjects including unusual events and people.

George Cruikshank (Self Portrait)
George Cruikshank (Self Portrait)
The Art of George Cruikshank
The Art of George Cruikshank

This article describes the life and art of George Cruikshank with examples of some of his best works.

George Cruikshank was probably the greatest of Victorian book illustrator. His artwork embellished the works of literary giants such as Charles Dickens as well as a host of popular Victorian authors. His output was prodigious and ranged from satirical drawings to faithful recreations of historical events and imaginative depictions of literary characters. At its height, his popularity rivaled that of the authors whose books he illustrated.

The Work of George Cruikshank

George Cruikshank was born in London on September 27, 1792 and he died on February 1st 1878. He came from a family of noted illustrators and artists. His father Isaac Cruikshank was a celebrated cartoonist and illustrator and his brother Robert Cruikshank also achieved some success in the same field.

George Cruikshank began his artistic education in his father's workshop, at first simply adding detail to sketches done by his father, and then eventually undertaking complete works of his own. At the same time that Cruikshank was developing his mature talent as an artist, the British publishing industry was changing and this opened up many opportunities for Cruikshank. Improvements in printing technology meant that it was now easier and cheaper to add illustrations to printed books, while at the same time the growth of a literate middle class increased the market for all kinds of books and periodicals. In order to compete for readers, publishers began adding illustrations to books and magazines, which created a market for someone with Cruikshank's skills.

Very soon Cruikshank was in demand as an illustrator of books as well as newspaper and magazine articles. Cruikshank's work became quickly popular and helped sell books, so he was much in demand. In order to earn a living and to meet short publication deadlines, Cruikshank was forced to churn out a large number of pieces one after an other, but despite the quantity of his output, the quality of his work remained high. Cruikshank himself attributed his success to his ability to create characters, or as he once jokingly suggested in the drawing to the right, the characters created themselves.

In this drawing, Cruikshank is sleeping while the products of his imagination romp through his study. But perhaps he too is a product of the imagination, as suggested by the fact that some his characters are drawing the artist.
In this drawing, Cruikshank is sleeping while the products of his imagination romp through his study. But perhaps he too is a product of the imagination, as suggested by the fact that some his characters are drawing the artist. | Source

His brother Robert Cruikshank became an alcoholic and this eventually ruined his life and career. George Cruikshank became a vocal opponent of alcohol and a supporter of the temperance movement. In his later years, Cruikshank devoted much of his skills to creating anti-alcohol propaganda as well as advocating in favor of British imperialism, particularly in favor of the continued occupation of Ireland.

Examples of Cruikshank's Work

During his career George Cruikshank created over 10,000 drawings and illustrations. Today his prints are starting to become sought after by collectors.

This is an example of the caricatures that George Cruikshank often produced for various magazines.
This is an example of the caricatures that George Cruikshank often produced for various magazines.
An Illustration from Jack Sheppard
An Illustration from Jack Sheppard

Cruikshank illustrated many books including various historical novels by Ainsworth, a popular Victorian novelist at the time. This illustration is from a book called Jack Sheppard, which chronicled the true exploits of a highway robber renowned for his daring crimes and even more daring escapes from custody.

Illustration from the Tower of London
Illustration from the Tower of London

The above drawing is from The Tower of London, and is a good example of the detail and characters that Crukshank was able to cram into a relatively small drawing.

Cinderalla and Her Glass Slipper
Cinderalla and Her Glass Slipper

Cruikshank's wide range of subjects is exemplified by his illustrations of famous Fairy Tales. He was equally at ease depicting serious historical subjects as he was drawing lighthearted scenes from children's literature.

The Bottle
The Bottle

One of Cruikshank's more serious subjects. This drawing depicts alcohol fueled domestic violence.

Scenes from the Irish Rebellion
Scenes from the Irish Rebellion

George Cruikshank illustrated Maxwell's History of the Irish Rebellion, which depicted the Irish rebels as brutish monsters and the British occupiers as valiant bringers of civilization. There is a tinge of racism in Cruikshank's more patriotic work, which seems born from an inability to admit that the other side might have any redeeming qualities.

The End

Later in life, Cruikshank developed tremors and his work suffered. He died at the age of 86 and his last words were 'OH, WHAT will become of my children?' Since Cruikshank and his wife were known to be childless, these final words were somewhat of a mystery, until the truth was uncovered.

During his lifetime * was known as a strict moralist and supporter of the anti-drinking and anti-smoking movements, though he had been both a heavy drinker and a smoker. Like many social conservatives in American politics today, whose private lives have led to scandals which rocked their carefully crafted images as Bible thumpers, Cruikshank lived a secret life which was contrary to the values and morals which he publicly espoused. Though married, Cruikshank maintained a separate household just three doors down from his home, complete with mistress and 11 children, whose existence he kept secret from friends and family until his death.

© 2011 Robert P


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    • quotations profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert P 

      6 years ago from Canada

      Thanks for the feedback. I love his illustrations too. They are amazingly detailed and creative. It never ceases amaze me what illustrators like him were able to accomplish with just pencil and ink. It puts today's computer aided illustrations to shame.

    • LastRoseofSummer2 profile image


      6 years ago from Arizona

      Wow, I'd never seen his works! I wonder how I missed him because I'm really into old books and illustrations...? Thanks for a great hub!

    • quotations profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert P 

      8 years ago from Canada

      Hi Mary, I share your love for old illustrations. I think they are far superior to most illustrations today.

    • Mary Stuart profile image


      8 years ago from Washington

      I love old political illustrations and cartoons. they give the best insight into culture and the issues of the day. Thank you.

    • quotations profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert P 

      8 years ago from Canada

      Thanks healthp - it never ceases to amaze me how diverse and original his drawings were.

    • healthp profile image


      8 years ago

      Great hub! George Cruikshank was the most brilliant English book illustrator of his period

    • carolapple profile image


      8 years ago from Suffolk Virginia

      I have a great interest in illustration and this is some fascinating information. George Cruikshank was obviously a skilled and talented man who left quite a legacy. But 11 children – and 86 years old....Wow!

    • quotations profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert P 

      8 years ago from Canada

      Thanks daisyjae - I have always been fascinated by the lives of the Victorians. They accomplished so much yet most lived very oppressive lives, which some escaped by leading secret lives which they hid behind a facade of public respectability.

    • daisyjae profile image


      8 years ago from Canada

      Awesome hub, what an interesting story, especially the last part!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Wow! The end of this hub was explosive. What a little sneak he was, LOL So, here are my thoughts, as I read it and also read the comments above. First-very interesting topic. Second-I loved the sketches. It really highlighted his work. Third-the family history caught my eye (i.e. brother was an alcoholic) and finally-I just woke up and began reading this so I really was not expecting that info at the end.

      Great job! Held my attention throughout the hub.

    • quotations profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert P 

      8 years ago from Canada

      Thanks for the feedback dragonflyfla

    • quotations profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert P 

      8 years ago from Canada

      Hi Caseworker - thanks for catching my type. Now if only I could fix the url!

    • CASE1WORKER profile image


      8 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      excellent- just check out the spelling of your title- i think a typo crept in

    • dragonflyfla profile image

      Joy Campbell 

      8 years ago from South Florida

      Interesting topic. I have studied art history but didn't have the pleasure of running across Cruikshank.


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