Rebels destroying a house and furniture for History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798 (1845) — Cruikshank's nineteenth illustration, facing p. 384, 9.9 cm high by 14.4 cm wide, framed. Cruikshank implies that total lack of military discipline was responsible for the failure of the rebels, who nonetheless scored a number of notable victories against the regular army. Had the French been able to land supporting forces, the rebellion might well have succeeded. The image is one of the last of the twenty which Cruikshank completed for the 1845 revised edition of the 1803 historical work. Source: McLean, p. 77. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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[Cruikshank's twenty-one, full-page steel engravings] depict actual historical events, but must be regarded as jingoist propaganda. Despite their obvious bias, the illustrations have artistic merit for their rich detail and effective depiction of various characters from all strata of society. — "The Irish Rebellion — Propaganda as Art."​

The other dominant element in Cruikshank's compositions (aside from an interest in vigorous action) is his fondness for the grotesque, as seen here in the distorted visages of the rebels, and in his ogres in Fairy Library (1853-64). Consistently, Cruikshank shows no justification for the rebellion, and focuses on the sheer violence, the loss of life, and the wanton destruction of property. Armed hooligans destroy whatever is in their path, including the floorboards (presumably, they are looking for secreted valuables), smashing to pieces whatever they cannot carry, appreciate, or understand. Drunken louts dance an Irish jig on a piano played by a uniformed soldier, perhaps a British regular who has gone over to the side of darkness. Cruikshank is wholly without sympathy for the United Irishmen, who never rise above the status of an armed mob in his illustrations; viewing them, one has no inkling of their original cause: equality before the law. The rebels in his illustrations are brutal, loutish, violent, and mindless; the loyalists who oppose them are intelligent, determined, self-composed, and noble of visage. The Protestant minority valiantly defend their property; the Irish rebels indiscriminately destroy it. Here, the Cruikshank qualities of fun and frolic blend with the weird and terrible.

A few additional titles will suggest the extent and varied nature of Cruikshank's commissions as a book illustrator during his later career. In 1845, he achieved one one of his most remarkable successes in the twenty-one plates he made to embellish W. H. Maxwell's History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798 (Cohn 541). There is nothing in the artist's work to prepare one for the brutal savagery of this picturing of the horrors of civil warfare; indeed, to match the stark ferocity of such etchings as "Murder of George Crawford and his Granddaughter," "The Rebels executing their Prisoners, on the Bridge at Wexford," or "Rebels destroying a House and Furniture," one would have to go to Goya's Los Desastres de la Guerra. Totally different in character are the artist's thirty etchings on steel for Frank Fairleigh: or, Scenes from the Life of a Private Pupil. . . . — E. D. H. Johnson, p. 19.

This grim, new realism in his work comes after his collaborations with novelists Charles Dickens and William Harrison Ainsworth; as with The Bottle and The Drunkard's Children. Here Cruikshank deals with the horrors of reality rather than of fiction; but his method is much the same: those with whom we should identify are touchingly human, whereas the villains are insensitive brutes, their faces distorted and animalistic.

The 1798 rising occurred in the spring and summer and involved between 30,000 and 50,000 insurgents and around 76,000 government troops. There were two main centers of rebellion: in Eastern Ulster, where the insurgents were decisively defeated at Antrim and at Ballynahinch, and in South Leinster, where the critical rebel defeat occurred at Vinegar Hill (Co. Wexford) on 21 June. A French landing, at Killala (Co. Mayo) in August, came too late to assist the Irish insurgents, and was defeated at Ballinamuck (Co. Longford) within a week of arriving. The rising cost perhaps 30,000 lives. — The Oxford Companion to British History.

Bibliography "Cruikshank." "The Irish Rebellion — Propaganda as Art."

Burton, Anthony. "Cruikshank as an Illustrator of Fiction." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Ed. Robert L. Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rev., 1992. Pp. 92-128.

Cohen, Jane Rabb. Part One, "Dickens and His Early Illustrators: 1. George Cruikshank. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio University Press, 1980. Pp. 15-38.

"The Irish Rising of 1798." The Oxford Companion to British History. Oxford, New York: Oxford U. Pr, 1997.

Kitton, Frederic G. "George Cruikshank." Dickens and His Illustrators. London: Chapman & Hall, 1899. Pp. 1-28.

McLean, Ruari. George Cruikshank: His Life and Work as a Book Illustrator. English Masters of Black-and-White. London: Art and Technics, 1948.

Maxwell, William Hamilton. History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798; with memoirs of the Union, and Emmett's insurrection in 1803. Illustrated by George Cruikshank and E. P. Lightfoot. London: Baily Brothers, Cornhill, 1845. [Cruikshank, not mentioned on the title-page, provided etchings; he is more prominently mentioned on the title-page of the George Bell edition of 1884.]

Paulson, Ronald. "The Tradition of Comic Illustration from Hogarth to Cruikshank." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Ed. Robert L. Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rev., 1992. Pp. 35-60.

Last modified 16 July 2017