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An illustration by George Cruikshank
Written & researched by Philip Battle.
To date, this is the oldest representation of a pavement artist I can find. It was first published as an illustration on a print (Height: 270 millimetres – Width: 375 millimetres) featuring 8 other illustrations by George Cruikshank, and was ‘designed and etched’ by the artist on the 1st November 1829 as part of his ‘Scraps and Sketches’ series.
The British Museum description reads: “A pavement artist watched by two boys; he has drawn an anchor and writes ‘Thos Stone’.”
The original illustration was in black & white, but it was later hand-coloured and published in a book of illustrations by Cruikshank (Scraps and Sketches book) bond in leather and published between 1830 and 1832.
The images above show the variations between the hand-coloured prints, now held in the collection of the British Museum.
George Cruikshank (1782-1878) developed into perhaps the greatest of British book illustrators. His working life of over seventy years began as his father’s assistant in political and social caricature in 1806 and, with no formal artistic training, by the time he was eighteen had succeeded James Gillray as the leading caricaturist of the day. At thirty-one he turned to book illustration, a field which he was to dominate for the next twenty-five years.
He was described as “Caricaturist, draughtsman on wood, illustrator, etcher and painter; active in London.”
Although this is one of the first representations I can find to date, it doesn’t mean that it’s the first time a pavement artist has been depicted in art. The history of the paving stone goes back well over 5000 years and it’s safe to assume that artists have been leaving their mark on the pavement ever since the beginning of civilisation. Just because something has rarely been documented, doesn’t mean its never happened.
Take a walk around the streets of Pompeii and you’ll notice street graffiti still visible today. Human nature tells us that wherever there is a ‘suitable’ surface, art, like life, will always find a way.
Source material from The National Trust & the British Museum.
ALL IMAGES © Trustees of the British Museum