15 A Republican Belle and Beau

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A Republican Beau
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A Republican Belle

Isaac Cruickshank (1756 – 1811)

A Republican Belle. A Picture of Paris for 1794

Etching with hand-colouring

Published by S.W. Fores No.3 Piccadilly, London, 10th March 1794

A Republican Beau. A Picture of Paris for 1794

Etching, coloured

Published by S.W. Fores No.3 Piccadilly, London, 10th March 1794

Published as a pair A Republican Beau and A Republican Belle satirized the popular French fashion plates of the period, while continuing a trend in other British caricature to portray the French Revolution as a society turned upside-down. In France sans-culottes were viewed as zealous revolutionaries or patriotic fathers, but in England they were portrayed in caricatures as violent sub-humans whose animalistic behaviour was overturning both the French monarchy and their own civilisation. These caricatures were published during the height of the Terror when thousands were sent to the guillotine without proper trial, prompting English caricaturists to stereotype the French as blood-thirsty. This stereotype was reinforced visually by the violent attributes with which French characters were portrayed.

In the caricature of the man, A Republican Beau, the sans-culotte wears a tattered suit with patriotic French colours of red, white and blue, topped with a liberty cap. To his left is a guillotine, on which is proclaimed ‘THIS IS OUR GOD’. He is armed with a bloody dagger, two pistols and a spiked club. From a side pocket protrudes the body of a child, labelled, “for stew.” The female equivalent, A Republican Belle, is shown holding a dagger in one hand and a pistol in the other. She is the complete opposite of a traditional image of a respectable woman and proper mother. She shows no concern for her child and allows a pistol to discharge near it. The guillotine is feminised in this image by its display as jewellery, hanging on a necklace and earrings. Gruesome humour is everywhere. Attentive viewers will guess that the pub in the background is called The King’s Head, and here drinkers are playing skittles with the guillotine’s products. In both caricatures, bodies hang in the background and both central figures are shown with elongated jaws and sunken eyes, suggesting that the figures are subhuman. Both figures are intended to represent the dark depths of human nature that the Revolution uncovered.

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