Isaac Cruikshank (1764-1811) Forceful as a caricaturist and imaginative as a painter, Isaac Cruikshank acted as a model for his sons and, through both them and more generally, proved an influence on the imagery of a generation. Isaac Cruikshank was born in the Canongate, Edinburgh, on 5 October 1764. His father, Andrew Crookshanks, who had once worked as a painter and as a customs officer, was a seller of prints and books.
Cruikshank soon decided to pursue his father’s first career, and become an artist. Following his father’s death in 1783, he studied under a local artist, possibly John Kay, and late in the same year master and pupil moved south to London (Cruikshank lodging at 53 Stanhope Street, Clare Market). There he worked, in the words of his son George Cruikshank as ‘a clever designer, etcher, and engraver, and a first-rate water-colour draughtsman’ (quoted in William Bates, George Cruikshank: The Artist, The Humorist, and The Man, London: Houlston and Sons, 1879, page 8). His first known publications – in January 1784 – were etchings of Edinburgh caricatures.
In 1788, Cruikshank married Mary MacNaughton.
On the birth of their first child, (Isaac) Robert Cruikshank, in the following year, they moved to St Martin’s Court, off St Martin’s Lane. Then on the birth of Robert’s brother, George, in 1792, they moved to 27 Duke Street (now Coptic Street), Bloomsbury. By 1808, the family would have settled at 117 Dorset Street (now Dorset Rise), Salisbury Square, close to St Bride’s, Fleet Street. Three further children all died by the age of 18.
Cruikshank exhibited genre paintings at the Royal Academy of Arts between 1789 and 1792, exploiting a taste for Gothic humour and sentiment. However, he became better known as a caricaturist and illustrator, ranking in quality below only James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson. While he began by defending Pitt against the attacks of Gillray, he soon developed an impartial attitude, and employed the graphic skills to criticise a range of opinion. He scored a number of particular successes with his images of Napoleon. In contrast to his political subjects, his social caricatures tended towards lively and accurate observation rather than grotesque exaggeration. His book illustrations included contributions to George Shaw’s General Zoology (1800-26).
Cruikshank nurtured the talents of his sons and, through his etched portraits of actors, introduced both Robert and George to the theatrical milieu that they so greatly valued. His early death, induced by alcohol, in April 1811, also fired George in his championship of temperance.
His work is represented in the collections of the British Museum, The Cartoon Museum and the V&A; The Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge); and The Huntington Library (San Marino, CA).
Further reading: E B Krumbhaar, Isaac Cruikshank: a Catalogue Raisonné with a sketch of his life and work, Philadelphia University of Pennsylvania Press, 1966 Ruari McLean, ‘Cruikshank (1) Isaac Cruikshank (bapt Edinburgh, 14 Oct 1764; bur London, 16 April 1811), Jane Turner (ed), The Dictionary of Art, London: Macmillan, 1996, vol 8, page 217 Edward J Nygren (ed), Isaac Cruikshank and the Politics of Parody: Watercolours from the Huntington Collection, Huntington Library Press, 1994 Robert L Patten, ‘Cruikshank [Crookshanks], Isaac (1764-1811)’, H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 14, pages 528-529 Matthew Payne and James Payne, Regarding Thomas Rowlandson 1757-1827. His Life, Art & Acquaintance, London: Hogarth Arts/Paul Holberton Publishing, 2010