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‘Brisk – Cathartic’, 1804

© 2021 Royal Pharmaceutical Society


Mounted hand coloured etching, entitled ‘Brisk – CATHARTIC.’, designed by Rev. John Sneyd, etched by James Gillray and published by Hannah Humphrey in 1804.

‘Brisk – CATHARTIC’ shows the invalid, seated facing on a water closet, wearing his greatcoat and cap, holding his stomach with a look of anxious and horrified expectancy on his face. A cathartic is a laxative medicine. A pair of breeches and stockings are on a clothes horse in the foreground.

From the mid 1700s to mid 1800s, the effects of medication were an important subject of satire. ‘Brisk – CATHARTIC’ shows that often to the patient, the cure was often considered worse than the condition it was intended to treat.

A study in facial expression, this caricature is from the series of caricatures comprising in addition; ‘Taking PHYSIC’, ‘Gentle EMETIC’, ‘Breathing a vein’, and ‘Charming – well again’.