Friday, June 11, 2010

Robert Cruikshank Devastates Dandies

by Stephen J. Gertz

 Dandies At Tea.

"I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy..." (Geo. M. Cohan).

The clothes-obsessed dandy and dandyism phenomenon first appeared in the 1790s, both in London and Paris. In period vernacular, a dandy was differentiated from a fop in that the dandy's dress was more refined and sober. But not for long.

Dandy Pickpockets Diving.

During the Regency period in London, dandyism was a revolt against  the extravagance and ostentation of the previous generation, and of sympathy with the new mood of democracy. It became, however, a competitive sport  and this revolt against prior tradition became a revolting development.

Immaculate personal cleanliness, crisp and clean linen shirts with high collars, perfectly tied cravats, and exquisitely tailored plain dark coats (similar in many respects to the "macaroni" of the earlier eighteenth century) became the fashion, epitomized by George Bryan "Beau" Brummel (1778-1840). Imitators  followed  but  few possessed  Brummel's sense of panache. Many, if not most,  over-reached.

Dandies Dressing.

Brummel also cut his hair short and was in the vanguard establishing what would evolve into the modern men's suit of jacket and trousers.

Beau Brummel may have set the standard for elegance and style but not every man aspiring to Brummel's flair succeeded. The style soon went over the top. What flowed naturally and unselfconsciously from Beau Brummel all too often became affectation and pretension in others and it was this class of dandies that became the subject of caricature and ridicule. 

Dandies Having a Treat.

They were, indeed, ripe subjects for satire and rich grist for caricaturist Robert Cruikshank (1789-1856) and his celebrated brother, George, both of whom sharply drew the connection between dandyism and buffoonery into the sharp burlesque it had become by the time these engravings were published, the Regency era's's end.. George, however, didn't want to have anything to do with at least one plate in the series. In the lower left corner of Dandies At Tea, over Robert's engraved name, he inscribed and signed: “Not any of it by me.”

The Dandy Lion.

During 1818-1819, Robert Cruikshank produced a series of hand-colored engravings lampooning dandies and dandyism. Issued separately, the engravings scattered, and as far as my research can determine only the British Museum possesses a complete suite. Yet at some point during the nineteenth century a private collector had them bound into an album. That album passed through my hands not too long ago. and yes, it's a dandy one, devastatingly sharp. If these engravings, originally published in the singular, were a steady drip of Chinese water-torture, their collection into a single album is a tsunami drowning the dandy in his overwrought and preening flamboyance. The reputation of dandies takes a mortal hit.

A Dandy Fainting, or An Exquisite in Fits.

The dandy's place in Americana is enshrined in the phrase Yankee Doodle Dandy, which originally appeared in the classic song Yankee Doodle, and referred to dandies and "macaronis." When the British used the term in reference to Americans it was sarcastic commentary that ridiculed the unsophisticated hayseeds we were perceived to be. In concert with the dandy's origins in the fashion of the working-class and in the spirit of democracy, Americans proudly embraced the joke and threw the laugh back at the British. It is exactly why Yankee Doodle stuck a feather in his cap and called it "macaroni."

A Dandy Sick.

I've found no evidence of these engravings ever being formally collected and published in a separate volume. This singular album appears to be the only effort to preserve the suite between covers. 

The Hen-Pecked Dandy.

Scholars have written extensively about the Dandy fad and phenomenon but none have commented more incisively than Cruikshank with his artist's pen and ink in these twelve plates.

Comparative Anatomy - Or, the Dandy Tribe.

The Plates (* @British Museum):

1. Dandies at Tea. T. Tegg, Nov. 1818. Numbered 317. With G. Cruikshank disavowal. *BM 13065.
2. Dandies and Dandizettes. T. Tegg. Nov. 6, 1818. Numbered 318.
3. Dandies Having a Treat. T. Tegg. Jan. 1, 1818. Numbered 324.
4. Dandies Dressing. T. Tegg. Nov. 2, 1818. Numbered 319. *BM 13062.
5. English Ladies Dandy Toy. T. Tegg. Dec. 9, 1818. *BM 13067.
6. The Hen-Pecked Dandy. T. Tegg. Nov. 7, 1818. Numbered 320. *BM 13064.
7. Dandy Pickpockets Diving. T. Tegg. Dec. 2, 1818. Numbered 322. Cohn 1043.
8. A Dandy Shoe maker in a Fright…T. Tegg. Dec. 3, 1818. Numbered 321. *BM 13066.
9. The Dandy Lion. S.W. Forbes. Dec. 8, 1818. *BM 13029.A.
10. Comparative Anatomy – or The Dandy Tribe. S.W. Forbes Dec. 10, 1818. *BM 13068.
11. A Dandy Fainting, or An Exquisite in Fits. G. Humphrey Dec. 11, 1818. *BM 13069.
12. A Dandy Sick. S.W. Forbes Feb 9, 1819. * BM 13447.

Dandies and Dandyzettes.

The dandy craze died out but periodically returns, often manifesting itself as rock n' roll fashion. In the early-to-mid-1960s, Carnaby Street designers ruled Britannia by updating the Dandy; their creations became all the rage for rockers; the trend and period, in retrospect, might be characterized as fop-rock, which reached its apotheosis with Elton John's burlesque of it; the Cruikshanks would have smiled in recognition.

In 1965, a rock n' roll group from San Francisco, inspired, apparently, by Regency England's celebrity clothes-horse, had a handful of Billboard Top-Ten hits. Go ahead, laugh, laugh.

Beau Brummel, because of his extravagances, had to flee England to avoid debtor's prison. He died in Caen, France, wallet and wardrobe impoverished, a sad death for the Dandy king.

CRUIKSHANK, [Isaac] Robert. [Dandies]. [T. Tegg and S.W. Forbes]: London, 1818-19.

A series of separately issued, first-state engravings, here collected. Folio (16 x 12 in; 410 x 305 mm). Twelve hand-colored engraved plates mounted on stubbed heavy stock. Plate I (numbered 317) is inscribed and initialed by George Cruikshank in the lower left corner over Robt. Cruickshank’s name: “Not any of it by me.”

Nineteenth century three-quarter green morocco over green cloth boards with gilt lettering. With the bookplates of collectors Samuel Henry Austin, and Reuben Jay Flick.

Latter-day dandies may wish to visit for news, information, Dandy-related articles, and a handy test of Dandy knowledge.

Images courtesy of David Brass.


  1. Great post. I would add that the Lewis Walpole Collection at
    has digitized a number of these. Search dandy dandies and you'll find more than 60 of them (some duplicataes)

  2. Wonderful images. Though the tone is so very different, I'm reminded of John Glassco's poem "Brummell at Calais". His finest, I think, it ends with these lines:

    An art of being, nothing but being, the grace
    Of perfect self-assertion based on nothing,
    As in our vanity's cause against the void
    He strikes his elegant blow, the solemn report of those
    Who have done nothing and will never die.


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