George Murgatroyd Woodward (1760-1809)
G M Woodward was the son of William Woodward, who lived at Stanton Hall, Derbyshire, and was probably steward to Mr Thornhill, the owner. During his youth, he made such a name for himself caricaturing local personalities that he decided to go to London to make his fortune.
The publication of two caricature prints in 1785 suggests that Woodward settled in London in or about that year. However, he did not make an impact until 1790, when he published a set of six caricatures under the title ‘Symptoms of Drunkenness’. Once established, he proved prolific.
From the start, his caricatures owed much of their appeal to their ideas, which were conveyed in part by the inscriptions, often in doggerel verse. A number were political in subject, but most were social, and concerned the middle and working classes, including many sailors.
Sometimes claimed as Britain’s first ‘gag cartoonist’, he was a pioneer of the strip cartoon, and his work as popular in its day as that of Rowlandson, his friend and drinking companion. However, as he was not trained as an artist, his drawings were etched by professionals, most frequently and notably by Rowlandson.
A versatile artist, Woodward designed borders, decorated screens and illustrated books, the first and most famous of which was Eccentric Excursions, published in 1796 (with a hundred designs engraved by Isaac Cruikshank).
He died at the Brown Bear public house, Bow Street, London, in November 1809, of a dropsy, with a glass of brandy in his hand. He was buried at the expense of the landlord. Many caricatures were published after his death from drawings he left behind him.
His work is represented in the collections of the British Museum, the Cartoon Art Trust and the V&A; and Derby Local Studies Library, the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge) and Leeds City Art Gallery.