Temperance Enjoying a Frugal Meal
Date Made/Found: Modern reprint of 1792 original
Department: Decorative Art
Accession Number: 2004.1304
This image is a modern hand coloured reprint of an original print entitled 'Temperance Enjoying a Frugal Meal'. In the bottom left corner are the artist's initials, 'Js. Gy. Design et fecit', indicating that James Gilllray designed and made the original engraving from which the prints were made. An inscription in the bottom right corner indicates it was originally printed by Hannah Humphrey on 28th July December 1792. Humphrey was the owner of a shop selling prints on New Bond Street, London and Gillray's publisher.
Satirical printmaking became popular in the mid 1700s. This is largely attributed to William Hogarth, an artist and engraver. As a result of Hogarth's lobbying, an act was passed in 1735 to protect engravers' copyright. This enabled them to have the sole right to reproduce their images. This became known as 'Hogarth's Law' and enabled the artists to gain a fair return for their work. Over the next few decades, the number of prints being produced increased dramatically. These were often caricatures of public figures, reactions to current events and political or social commentaries. Prints were originally sold as small cards, later in a magazine format or large scale compositions coloured by hand.
This image depicts King George III and Queen Charlotte eating at Windsor Palace. This print was produced to complement a slightly earlier work entitled 'A Voluptuary under the Horrors of Digestion'. In this image, Gillray lampooned the Prince of Wales' extravagant lifestyle and greed. In Temperance enjoying a Frugal Meal, Gillray is depicting the King and Queen's relatively austere lifestyle as being somewhat miserly.
How does Gillray symbolise the King and Queen's miserly lifestyle?
The King's meal consists of two boiled eggs, while the Queen is enjoying simple salad greens. Salad was considered a poor man's food at this time. A large pitcher of water sits next to the table, rather than the wine that would usually be enjoyed with dinner in wealthy homes. The chairs are covered in protective dust cloths, as is the end of the bell pull. The seat of the King's breeches are patched and mended. Ironically, the figurative candelabrum on the mantelpiece is engraved with Munificence, the act of giving generously. As a further satirical gesture, only one candle is burning.
Other references to the couple's miserly lifestyle can be found in the titles of the books in the corner of the scene: 'Dr Cheyne on the benefits of a Spare Diet' and 'Essay on the dearness of Provisions'. An empty picture frame hangs from the wall, on which is inscribed, 'The Triumph of Benevolence'. The Queen was often mocked for her love of money and hanging on the door behind her is a 'Table of Interest'.
Aside from offering an interesting insight to politics and popular opinion of the day, satirical prints and other works of art can often give us information on dining habits. The King and Queen are using two tine forks and scimitar bladed knives, typical styles in the late 1700s. They are hafted with green ivory, which was a fashionable choice at this time. Also on the table is a salt with ladle shaped spoon. Prior to the 1780s, straight spoons were used with salts.
Ivory has a long association with cutlery manufacture, with most ivory for the trade being carved in Europe during the 1500s-1600s. The trade of ivory fluctuated dramatically before the 1700s, when the emerging middle classes provided a consistent demand for ivory hafted cutlery and flatware. This persisted through to the second half of the 1800s.
Two tablespoons are placed on the table with the back of the bowl facing upwards. If you examine the stem of the spoon, you will notice that it curves downwards at the end. This enabled it to sit steadily on the table. This style was called Hanoverian. Spoons tended to be hallmarked on the back of the stem and placing them on the table in this way also enabled the marks to be displayed.
Although this practice did continue into the later 1700s, the general custom after the 1730s was to place spoons with the back of the bowl facing downward. The shanks of this new style of spoon curved in the opposite direction to the older type, like most spoons do today. This design was known as Old English. The King is using the newer style of spoon to eat his egg. This may be a subtle message from Gillray, suggesting that the King and Queen were too miserly to purchase a full set of new spoons.
This work forms part of the Bill Brown Collection. Supported by The Art Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund and the Friends of Sheffield Galleries & Museums Trust.Display Location: