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Exhibitions/ Art Object

The Infant Hercules

Thomas Rowlandson (British, London 1757–1827 London)
William Humphrey (British, 1742?–before 1814)
Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford (British, 1732–1792)
Charles James Fox (British, 1749–1806)
William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham (British, 1708–1778)
Published in:
February 3, 1784
Hand-colored etching
Sheet: 8 11/16 × 12 5/8 in. (22.1 × 32.1 cm)
Credit Line:
The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1959
Accession Number:
Not on view
In 1783, at the age of twenty-four, William Pitt became the youngest person ever to head the British government. King George III, who had become fed up with the machinations of a Whig coalition led by Charles James Fox and Frederick Lord North, finally prevailed upon Pitt to accept the premiership. When Rowlandson cast Pitt as the infant Hercules he echoed popular opinion, which saw the youthful minister as a refreshing change from his corrupt, self-serving predecessors. Like the classical hero, Pitt displays amazing strength as he strangles serpents determined to dispatch him. The snakes have the heads of Fox and North, while the shield marked "Chatham" implies that Pitt inherited his zeal from his famously principled father, the Earl of Chatham, just as Hercules’s supernatural strength came from his father, the god Jupiter.
Inscription: Inscribed in plate below image center: "THE INFANT HERCULES"; right: "Pub-d Feb-y 3rd 1784 by W. Humphry No. 227 Strand"; within image above infant Hercules: "These were your MiNiSTERS"; below Hercules: " SHIELD OF CHATHAM"
Francis Harvey (British, active by 1859–died 1899); C. W. Dyson Perrins, his sale Sotheby's, London, Jan. 12, 1959; Vendor: Sotheby's, London Jan. 12, 1959
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Infinite Jest: Caricature and Satire from Leonardo to Levine," September 13, 2011–March 4, 2012.

Grego I.115, II.389; British Museum Satires 6402
Frederic George Stephens, M. Dorothy George Catalogue of political and personal satires preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum. 11 vols., London, 1870-, cat. no. 6402.

Joseph Grego Rowlandson the Caricaturist: A selection from his works, with anecdotal desciptions.... 2 vols., London, 1880, vol. I, p. 115, vol. II, p. 389.

Nadine Orenstein, Constance C. McPhee Infinite Jest: Caricature and Satire from Leonardo to Levine Exh. cat.: September 13, 2011 - March 4, 2012. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven and London, 2011, Entry by Constance McPhee, cat. no. 121, p. 160, ill.

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