This print is a work of social satire, which mocks the extremes of fashion. It shows a family of three (parents with a daughter) arriving at a ball to celebrate a general election. The daughter is greeted by a gentleman in a uniform. Both the daughter and her mother are elaborately attired in highly embellished dresses and flamboyant hats. Behind them are more modestly dressed women, one of whom has an expression of horror, as she stares at the display of feathers emerging from the hat before her.
The scene may refer to the humorous and satirical poem ‘An Election Ball’, written by Christopher Anstey (1724-1805) and published in 1776. The poem gives a description of Sir John Sebright, MP for Bath, holding an election ball to celebrate his success. Anstey takes the opportunity to poke fun at issues of taste and manners, such as the outrageous head-dresses worn by contemporary women and the adoption of continental mannerisms by British dandies.
Draughtsman and printmaker William Heath was born in Northumbria. Little is known of his early life but he may have been raised in Spain and have served in the British army. Heath was 14 when his first satirical cartoons were published and he continued to etch caricatures and illustrate books, including his own ‘Life of a Soldier’ (1823). In 1825-26 he was in Edinburgh, writing and illustrating for the journal ‘Glasgow Looking Glass’. He later returned to London to illustrate a similar journal, ‘Looking Glass’. From 1827-29 he identified his work with a tiny drawing of stage character ‘Paul Pry’, abandoning the motif when it was copied by other artists. From 1830 he concentrated on topographical illustration. He died in Hampstead, aged 45.
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