A Happy Finish: James Gillray and the Victorian Obscenity Laws

If you wanted to get your hands on the really dirty stuff in the 19th century, you had to get it under the counter. But, you could usually get it from the same people you got your finer works from: private publishers and printers.

19th century society, and the laws in force, meant that printers had to leave out many of the saucier images from collections that had been published in their entirety in a previous era. And so it is believed to be with a collection of plates by James Gillray recently unearthed in the vaults of the Ministry of Justice:

‘The folio was carefully wrapped up alongside a collection of seized material that had been handed to the old obscene publications unit over the years. That material is fairly tame by today’s standards, but when I uncovered the folio it was clear that it was something a little out of the ordinary. Even so, after some research, I was amazed to discover it had such historic value and am pleased to now see the prints kept safe in a suitable home.’

Gillray’s drawings – including his more famous caricatures of the political figures of the time – were republished in the 1840s, but like his contemporary Thomas Rowlandson – of whom we have written before – Gillray also produced a body of work of an even more controversial nature.

It’s believed that this slim volume of ‘Curiosa’ would have reproduced those engravings excised from the main 1840 editions of Gillray’s work, and privately sold to the more curious collector. Some way along the line, it fell into the hands of the Victorian Vice Squad, but it has now, to much rejoicing, been presented to the nation, and appropriately to the Victoria and Albert museum, where it is viewable in the museum’s prints room.

We’re very grateful to the V&A for supplying Bookkake with a few images from the collection – tame by today’s standards, yes, but not without charm. And we’d love to know what else a clear-out of the old obscene publications store might reveal… (Click for much larger versions).

Fashionable Contrasts; or the Duchess’s little shoe yielding to the magnitude of the Duke’s Foot, 1792

Ladies Dress, as it soon will be, 1796

ci-Devant Occupations; or Madame Talian and the Empress Josephine Dancing Naked before Barras in the Winter of 1797, 1805

All images by James Gillray, © V&A Images, reproduced with permission.

Posted January 6, 2010 | Comments Off on A Happy Finish: James Gillray and the Victorian Obscenity Laws.

In Print: Corridor8 Magazine

If you don’t follow Bookkake on Twitter, then you might have missed our pointing at an interview with Michael Butterworth over at Ballardian. It’s the first of a projected three-part series covering all aspects of legendary Manchester press, Savoy Books.

We’ve only written about Savoy before in the context of the Obscene Publications Act, Savoy having the dubious honour of suffering the last successful prosecution of literature for obscenity in these isles for Lord Horror – a book now so hard to get hold of, you might want to enter Ballardian’s microfiction competition, where an original file copy is first prize. If you’re not familiar with Savoy’s work, then that interview is a good place to start, as is Bookkake contributor Supervert’s introductory essay Horror Panegyric.

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Posted November 17, 2009 | Comments Off on In Print: Corridor8 Magazine.

Quantum Obscenity, and the networking of desire

A good, if a little vague, article by Maureen Freely in Saturday’s Guardian brings together two recent news stories in an examination of our changing attitudes to children, art and sexual offences: the arrest of Roman Polanski for a 1977 assault on a minor (on which Steve Lopez writes convincingly, and approvingly, in the LA Times) and the removal of an artwork by Richard Prince from the Tate’s new Pop Life exhibition.

The artwork in question is a reproduction of a 1975 fashion photo of a nude, oiled and heavily made-up 10-year-old Brooke Shields – the same child who appeared naked on celluloid at 12 in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby (available on Amazon), and at 15 in a TV jeans ad with the strapline: “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” (Christopher Turner has a good history of the piece in the same newspaper.)

There’s no question as to the artistic merit of the piece: Prince’s appropriation is a direct questioning of sensuality versus sexuality, of the morality of art and the placing of responsibility for interpretation (Its title, “Spiritual America”, refers to an Alfred Stieglitz photograph of a gelded horse, referencing the breakdown of discussion of sexuality in society). Does the offence, the implicit lust, reside with the artwork, or the viewer? The Metropolitan Police are clear on the issue, or at least, on their opinion of the issue.

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Posted October 5, 2009 | Comments Off on Quantum Obscenity, and the networking of desire.

The Jet Age Compendium: Eduardo Paolozzi and Ambit Magazine

There’s an excellent exhibition on at the moment at Raven Row, in London’s Spitalfields. It brings together selected works by Eduardo Paolozzi from the 50s through to the 70s.

Those who only know Paolozzi as a sculptor, and through his mosaics on the London Underground or his massive Newton for the British Library forecourt might not know of his strong political and graphic design interests. Alongside acid-coloured prints (some of the first British Pop Art) and the strange toys the artist scavenged from flea markets, the exhibition presents a selection of collaborations between Paolozzi and Ambit magazine in the late 60s and 70s (although the relationship continued into the 90s).

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Posted September 25, 2009 | Comments Off on The Jet Age Compendium: Eduardo Paolozzi and Ambit Magazine.

Literary Tattoos

Nothing says you love a book quite like getting it tattooed on your own body. The Contrariwise blog of literary and musical tattoos contains some god-awful offences against the eye (the misspellings are particularly amusing) but it also showcases a number which raise a smile.

Our favourite is probably the above, taken from Molly Bloom’s ecstatic, breathless climax in Ulysses:

“…I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

There are plenty more on the site, and bonus points if you can identify the sources of the following without following the links:

Posted March 25, 2009 | Comments Off on Literary Tattoos.

Stewart Home’s Prank Call to a Hooker

With bad telephone practice currently all over the news, friend of Bookkake Stewart Home has recently been up to far more entertaining things.

Stewart, of course, is the author of the introduction to the Bookkake edition-that-never-was, Alex Trocchi’s White Thighs, as well as many other works. He’s also got a great Youtube channel, including the above, alongside the promo for his classic Red London, the London Art Tripping series of interviews with artists including Jeremy Deller, Francis Morland and Bill Hopkins, and much more.

Posted October 29, 2008 | Comments Off on Stewart Home’s Prank Call to a Hooker.

And Thus we Would set About Seeking an Aeroplane Woman

And Thus we Would set About Seeking an Aeroplane Woman, Bruno Munari, c.1936

The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in North London is currently showing Cut & Paste: European Photomontage 1920-1945, and I highly recommend it to graphics lovers, type fanatics, arch-modernists and incurable romantics of all kinds. The last part may seem strange for an exhibition that includes doctored pictures of Hitler and the victims of Madrid, and much revolutionary propaganda and exhortations to Master Technology and Increase the Ranks of Proletarian Specialists, but it’s at the heart of my appreciation.

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Posted October 19, 2008 | Comments Off on And Thus we Would set About Seeking an Aeroplane Woman.

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