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George Cruikshank (1792-1878)

The Disturber Detected Signed and dated 1850

Oil on panel | 44.7 x 55.9 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 405574

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  • In this crowded scene, all eyes are fixed on a young boy who has disrupted a church service by dropping a metal spinning top on to a monumental brass set into the stone floor. The embarrassment on the child's face contrasts with the annoyance of the parish beadle (a figure modelled by the artist's nephew), whose pose mimics that of the statue of St Mark on the end of his rod of office. Although the church interior is imaginary, the brass is based on that of the thirteenth-century crusader knight Sir Roger of Trumpington in the church of St Mary and St Michael, Trumpington, Cambridgeshire, said to be the second oldest in England.

    The scene does not appear to be based on an identifiable literary source, yet in its emphasis on characterisation and narrative the painting betrays Cruikshank's early interest in the theatre and subsequent career as a printmaker. The artist built a reputation during the Regency period as a sharp and witty caricaturist – his prints were considered so scandalous to George IV that in 1820 the monarch paid Cruikshank £100 'in consideration of a pledge not to caricature His Majesty in any immoral situation' (RA GEO/MAIN/51382a/21). Later Cruikshank moved into book illustration, a field in which his output was both prodigious and highly imaginative, and included illustrations for works by Dickens and Henry Fielding.

    By 1850 however, in an effort to command higher prices for his work and achieve independence from publishers, George Cruikshank had turned his attention to oil painting and in 1853 (at the age of 61) enrolled in the Royal Academy schools. The Disturber Detected is one of his most successful works in this medium – Cruikshank freely admitted he found working in oils laborious compared to the etching techniques with which he was so familiar. The influence of the artist's print training is evident here in his use of ink and white highlights to emphasise areas of minute detail, in particular of the church architecture.

    Prince Albert purchased the painting in the unfinished state in which it was sent on approval to Buckingham Palace. The asking price of thirty guineas was deliberately low since Cruikshank had hoped that this would encourage further patronage from the royal couple (Patten 1996, p.290). However, nothing is recorded of Prince Albert's opinions on either artist or painting and this was the only work by Cruikshank that either he or the Queen ever bought.

    Text adapted from Victoria and Albert: Art & Love, London, 2010

    Signed and dated: GEORGE / CRUIKSHANK / 1850

    Purchased from the artist by Prince Albert in 1850 (payment dated 3 January 1850, PA Ledgers)

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on panel


    44.7 x 55.9 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    63.8 x 74.5 x 6.3 cm (frame, external)