Wednesday, September 12, 2012

William Heath On Womens Hats and Fashion Madness, Part I

by Stephen J. Gertz

Modern Oddities by P. Pry (W. Heath). Plate 1st.
The Sleeves Curiously Cut. June 30, 1829

A singular collection of vividly colored, vividly satiric prints on Regency England fashions for women recently fell under my eyes and I nearly fell over.

The Beau Monde. July 6, 1829.

It was a spectacular compilation of hand-colored prints issued by the foremost English publisher of political and social satire, Thomas McLean, with outstanding compositions by William Heath  (fifty-two of fifty-nine) that lampoon London fashion, society, and characters in a manner that not only rivals his contemporary, Geo. Cruikshank, but, in the broad, burlesque exaggeration of the fashion plates, exceeds him, and, significantly, avoids the grotesquery that Cruikshank often wallows in; Heath  was clearly amused by his subjects, Cruikshank often harshly cynical.

The Fashion Behind But Not Behind the Fashion. May 1829.

William Heath (aka by pseudonym Paul Pry, 1794/5–1840), caricaturist and illustrator, was born in Northumbria. "Assuming that the particulars in his obituary notice in the Gentleman's Magazine are correct, Heath was only fourteen when his first satirical prints were published in 1809. Although he continued to etch occasional caricatures over the next fifteen years, he was principally occupied in illustrating books, mainly on military themes...

A Dessert Imitation of Modern Fashion. No date.

"When the demand for military prints declined in the 1820s Heath reverted to caricatures, published either as individual prints or as sets, and soon established himself in a leading position. In 1825–6 Heath was in Scotland, writing and illustrating the first magazine in the world to be given over, predominantly, to caricatures. The Glasgow Looking Glass...

Abroad Pt 1st. A La Mode 1829.

"Heath returned to London in 1827 and for the next two years was the leading caricaturist, prolific alike in social and political satire. In 1827 he started to sign his prints with a little drawing of the actor Liston in the role of Paul Pry, a character who interfered in other peoples' business in John Poole's eponymous comedy (1825). However the Paul Pry device attracted plagiarists on such a scale that in 1829, having complained on a caricature of a ‘dirty rogue’ who was ‘robbing us of our ideas and just profit', he abandoned it...

 Making a Lancer. No date.

"When on 1 January 1830 Thomas McLean, the leading purveyor of comic art, launched a monthly magazine of caricatures, available in plain and hand-coloured versions, called the Looking Glass, he advertised it as having been ‘drawn and etched’ by ‘William Heath’ for whom he acted as ‘sole Publisher’. Clearly Heath's name was the selling point, yet after seven issues he was replaced by Robert Seymour. Perhaps McLean felt that Seymour's lithographs better expressed the new spirit of delicacy to which he was attuning himself. Or perhaps he had become exasperated by Heath's ‘careless habits - drink, debts and unpunctuality’...In any event, after 1830 Heath's output of caricatures declined rapidly...The Gentleman's Magazine recorded that on 7 April 1840 ‘William Heath, artist’ died at ‘Hampstead, London, aged 45’" (Oxford DNB).

Opera Reminiscences Pl 2. Hat Boxes. July 14, 1829.

Here, McLean has gathered together unsold prints with a specially produced undated and generic title-page. While I cannot warrant it, this album appears to be a unique, McLean, presumably, using the title-page for ad hoc compilations as the need arose to move merchandise otherwise moribund.

The overwhelming majority of these prints appear under Heath's pseudonym, Paul Pry, identified by the tiny vignette device in the lower left (sometimes right) corner of each print, the figure often  commenting upon the content.

[HEATH, William, R. Seymour, R. Cruikshank, M. Egerton,  A Selection of Humorous Engravings, Caricatures &c. by Various Artists, Selected and Arranged by Thomas McLean. London: Thomas McLean, n.d. [1827-29].

Folio (19 1/4 x 14 in; 488 x353 mm). Engraved title page, and fifty-nine hand-colored engraved plates each window-pane mounted on heavy stock. Fifty-one are by William Heath; three are by Robert Seymour (two of which are signed "Shortshanks"); one by Michael Egerton (M.E.); one by Robert Cruikshank; and three are unsigned.

More in Part II.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks very much for this great article;this is the stuff that keeps me going through out these day.
    Gypsy Dharma


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