The Antiquarian Society

The Antiquarian Society, 1812
George Cruikshank (1792-1878)
Coloured engraving
20.5 x 39.5 (cm)
Society of Antiquaries of London

Cruikshank 1812, pp. 431, 450-5; George 1949, pp. 171-2; Nurse 2000, pp. 316-20; London 2007, no. 39
full bibliography (pdf)
 Cruikshank's satirical print of an imaginary meeting of the Society was published in the issue for 1 June 1812 of the radical monthly magazine The Scourge (1811-16). Cruikshank was one of the most original, productive and skilful caricaturists of the day. A controversial election for president of the Society had taken place five weeks previously and Cruikshank had evidently been informed of the proceedings by a person clearly hostile to the winning faction of the newly elected president and future Prime Minister, Lord Aberdeen, who is shown holding a scroll inscribed as on a monument 'K.I.S.S.M.Y.R.'. In the print nobody listens to him, and the Duke of Norfolk, on the right, is fast asleep. Aberdeen's Catholic opponent for the presidency, Sir Henry Englefield, who had contributed more to antiquarian scholarship, examines a bust presumably meant to represent his former Jamaican mistress. The table is shown strewn with such everyday objects as a coal skuttle (labelled 'Ancient Shield'), jars of pickled cabbage and gooseberries ('Funerial Urns'), a pigswill trough ('Roman Sarcophagus') and a chamber pot masquerading as a 'Roman Vase'.

Although a caricature, Cruikshank's print is one of the earliest images of a Society meeting. The room at Somerset House, now used by the Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, is accurately depicted. The Society still has the same President's chair, the bust of George III. The painting of the family of Henry VIII depicted on the right was then on loan from the King. The seating in Somerset House, and in Burlington House until the 1920s, was arranged parliamentary fashion, facing across a long table, so that objects could be examined and discussed.