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James Gillray's Design for a Naval Pillar: Naval Heroism and Patriotic Public Display in late Eighteenth-Century Britain

  • Nd Painting
  • Nc Drawing Design Illustration


James Gillray (1756 - 1815) produced maritime themed prints that were responses to Britain’s contemporary naval wars against revolutionary and Napoleonic France (1793-1815). Diverse visual representations, publications, theatre performances and the press informed Gillray and his audiences’ interpretations of the Navy, loyalist patriotism and emerging notions of national identity. This thesis shows that Gillray’s discursive position towards naval actualities, symbolism, heroic representation and monumental sculpture are evident in his work, particularly concerning the characters of the sailor Jack Tar, the officer Horatio Nelson, and the contemporary sculptural projects of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Naval Pillar. Through distortion of the representational resources of high art, Gillray derided official representations of naval heroism and the culture of patriotic public display within which they existed, attacking their idealism, socio-political exclusivity and links with loyalist propaganda and excess. This thesis interprets Gillray’s work as being indicative of his political ambivalence and critical attitude towards the establishment and cultural pretension. It is argued that Gillray’s oeuvre demonstrates his dialogical engagement with, and perceptive awareness and exploitation of, the relationships between, official and unofficial discourses. This thesis explains specific Gillray works in relation to their relationships with naval discourses, culminating in the first in-depth analysis of Gillray’s significant, yet previously overlooked, Design for a Naval Pillar, 1 February 1800.

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