James Gillray. “PEN-etration.” London: H. Humphrey, 1799. 10 1/4 x 7 1/8. Etching. Original hand color. Trimmed to neat lines. George: 9441.
An acerbic caricature of John Penn, grandson of the founder of Pennsylvania. Drawn by James Gillray (1756-1815), one of the best-known British caricaturists, who made a name for himself through his witty compositions, capable draftsmanship, and exquisite detail. Through his copious political satires, he set a new standard for the genre, becoming a measure by which his successors were judged. The prints he published through Hannah Humphrey’s shop in London have become archetypes for caricaturists and include such famous images as world rulers carving up the globe at dinner.
This portrait shows John Penn as a feckless dandy in floppy hat, jacket and pantaloons. Penn was the hereditary Governor of Pennsylvania, but he sold his inheritance at the outbreak of the American Revolution. His other “claim to fame” was as the author of two volumes or rather poor poetry. A fine example of Gillray’s insightful and pointed wit.