George Cruikshank was born in London on 27th September, 1792. His father, Isaac Cruikshank, was a caricaturist who died as a result of his alcoholism in 1811. After a brief education at an elementary school in Edgeware, Cruikshank set himself up as a caricaturist in London. An early influence on Cruikshank was James Gillray, Britain's leading caricaturist at the time.
Cruikshank was soon selling his drawings to over twenty different printsellers. This included a large caricature that appeared in each issue of William Jones's satirical magazine, The Scourge. These early drawings included attacks on the royal family and leading politicians such as Lord Castlereagh and Lord Sidmouth.
George Cruikshank, like many people, was deeply shocked by the Peterloo Massacre on 16th August, 1819. Cruikshank responded to this event by produced one of his most powerful drawings, Massacre at St. Peter's.
In 1818 George Cruikshank joined forces with Radical publisher and bookseller, William Hone, who was playing a leading role in the campaign against the Gagging Acts. In their struggle for press freedom, the two men produced The Political House that Jack Built. Hone later recalled he got the idea while reading the House That Jack Built to his four-year-old daughter. The 24 page pamphlet contained political nursery rhymes written by Hone and twelve illustrations by Cruikshank. The Political House That Jack Built was an immediate success selling over 100,000 copies in a few months.
The two men followed this success with a series of political pamphlets including The Queen's Matrimonial Ladder (1819) and The Man in the Moon (1820). In August 1821 the two men produced a mock newspaper, A Slap at Slop. Slop was Hone's name for John Stoddart, a former radical who had become the conservative editor of The Times. A Slap at Stop was illustrated by twenty-six wood engravings, including several on the subject of the Peterloo Massacre.
Cruikshank did not hold strong political beliefs and was willing to produce anti-radical prints for Tory booksellers like George Humphrey. This included Death and Liberty, a warning of the dangers that Radicals posed to the British Constitution and The Female Reformers of Blackburn, an attack on women becoming involved in politics. In September 1819 Cruikshank produced a Radical Reformer, a print that illustrated the threat of a French style revolution.
Cruikshank appears to have lost interest in politics in the 1820s and began to concentrate on theatrical caricatures and book illustrations. In 1836 Cruikshank met Charles Dickens and the two men worked on several projects together. Cruikshank illustrated Sketches by Boz (1836) and Oliver Twist (1838) and also supplied the drawings for Bentley's Miscellany, a journal edited by Dickens.
Like many artists, Cruikshank was unhappy about the changes that had resulted from the Industrial Revolution. In one print, London Going Out of Town - On the March of Bricks & Mortar (1829), Cruikshank attacked the building of houses on the green fields of Islington. In another print The Horses 'Going to the Dogs' (1829) he showed his dislike of the steam carriage that had been invented by Goldsworthy Gurney.
Cruikshank was a strong supporter of the Temperance Society and in 1847 produced The Bottle which sold almost 100,000 copies and The Drunkard's Children (1848). Cruikshank also became involved in the movement to protect children and published several books on the subject including A Slice of Bread and Butter (1857) and Our Gutter Children (1869). George Cruikshank died on 1st February, 1878.