HENRY BUNBURY (1750-1811) BACK
Henry Bunbury was the younger son of William Bunbury, 5th Baronet, who had estates at Mildenhall and Great Barton in Suffolk. Unlike his contemporaries such as Rowlandson and Gillray, Bunbury preferred social to political satire and poked fun at many of the fashions and idiosyncracies of the people of his time. Some of his most amusing prints depict horsemen, university life and episodes from his times as captain of the West Suffolk Militia, as well as local scenes and caricatures of local tradespeople.
Although he moved chiefly in fashionable London circles – he was “Groom of the Bedchamber” to the son of George III, he frequently returned to Bury St. Edmunds. He was highly popular in his time and was definitely a “bit of a lad”. He created iconic and influential images of the ideal “Englishman” but his art is much neglected.
England in mid-late 18th Century was characterised by cartoons of the age from Hogarth’s satires on society to the politics of Cruickshank and Rowlandson. Horace Walpole called Bunbury “the second Hogarth”, although his satire was gentle and good-humoured. However, the playwright Fanny Burney considered him to be a “rather dangerous character to be brought within a Court”.
A Horse with a Nose
The Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History has an article by Marilyn Clements about his life. Even in his school days he was drawing, for example “Boy riding upon a Pig” (1760s). Bunbury’s drawings explore wide themes and subjects. Luckily, he was never obliged, due to his private income, to work in commercial fields. Some of the humorous sketches use public figures and affairs for humour, but none of his pictures are overtly political. In “Misery” in 1788 Bunbury made a series about a young girl put on the street by her parents to save the family from starvation. It shows great artistic sensitivity.
In 1791 he published a series of humorous equestrian prints “Annals of Good Horsemanship”. There is a characteristic lack of spite in his work. Although he was influenced by Gillray and Rowlandson, he never developed their urgency or asperity.
Bunbury’s good-natured cartoons reflect the security and happiness of his life. His sociable manner and amiable nature were the key factors in the development of his artistic style which was charming and individual. His amateur status would have been lost if his livelihood had depended on his drawings. By the time of his death in 1811, the age of the gentleman cartoonist was over and he represents one of the last amateur cartoonists, an individual and sensitive artist.