This satirical print explores, in an allegorical manner, the theme of the suffering of the British people represented by John Bull under the heavy taxation and debt imposed by the British Government during the war against Napoleon. Bull first appeared as a literary character in John Arbuthnot’s five pamphlets published in 1712, which were collected and reprinted later as The History of John Bull. He also appears in satirical prints in an allegorical form, as a national character. He is often involved in arguments about the relationship between consumption and taxation and is depicted as an overweight man with rosy cheeks, wearing a blue overcoat and a red shirt.
James Gillray was a draughtsman, etcher and engraver of caricatures, mainly after his own designs. He studied at the Royal Academy Schools and learned the technique of stipple engraving from William Wynne Ryland and Francesco Bartolozzi. Gillray produced several serious plates in this medium after his own designs and after paintings by Northcote, while simultaneously establishing himself as a caricaturist. By the end of 1791 all his caricatures were published by Mrs Hannah Humphrey, with whom he lived for the rest of his life. In 1807 his eyesight began to deteriorate and in the same year he had a breakdown. By 1810 he was considered insane. Gillray attempted suicide the following year, eventually dying at his home in Westminster, aged 58.
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