Humorous caricature prints, one showing the heads of 14 aristocratic gentlemen each sporting a different style wig and a companion print featuring 12 gentlemen in fashionable hats. At least some of them may be portraits of specific people; one of the men in Wigs is probably a caricature of Lord Chancellor Bathurst. During the second half of the 18th century, hairstyles were signifiers of occupation and social class: lawyers wore long wigs reaching to the chest, merchants favored wigs with the hair at the neck tied with a ribbon and clerics wore short frizzed wigs without ties. The shifting fashions, especially the more extreme ones, provided fodder for British caricaturists of the period; in 2003 Yale University’s Lewis Walpole Library mounted an exhibition of over 30 prints on the subject by various artists, including several by Darly.
Matthew (sometimes called Matthias) Darly was a British engraver, caricaturist, wallpaper manufacturer and printseller, active in London from at least 1754 to 1781, though he began his artistic career around 1740. From 1757 and on, he produced and published over 300 caricatures. Darly exhibited with the Society of Artists from 1765 to 1770. Many of his engravings related to furnishings, ornaments and architecture, including Sixty Vases of English, French and Italian Masters (1767) and most of the plates in Chippendale’s The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Directory (1754-62). From 1755 to 1757 he worked in partnership with the ornithologist George Edwards in the wallpaper business. In addition to engraving printing plates his firm also offered ornamental engraving on gold, silver and copper. Darly also was a colourman (maker of artist’s paints) and offered lessons in drawing and engraving. His wife Mary, whom he married around 1760, acted as his publisher and printseller. Many prints have a publication line of “M. Darly” which is ambiguous between Matthew and Mary Darly. He published his last prints in 1781, although he may have died later.
Full publication information Hats: “Pub. Accor’g to Act Oct’r. 1, 1773 by MDarly 39 Strand.” Numbered 28 upper left corner.
Full publication information Wigs: Pub. Accor’g. to Act Oct’r. 12, 1773 by MDarly 39 Strand. Numbered 29 upper right corner.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, wear, handling. Margins a bit more toned, and with toning lines from former matting, can be rematted out. Recently professionally deacidified.
“Matthew Darly (Biographical details).” British Museum. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/term_details.aspx?bioId=127680 (1 June 2015).
Maxted, Ian. “The London book trades 1775-1800: a checklist of members.” Exeter Working Papers in Book History. http://bookhistory.blogspot.com/2007/01/london-1775-1800-d.html (1 June 2015).
“Preposterous Headdresses and Feathered Ladies: Hair, Wigs, Barbers, and Hairdressers.” Lewis Walpole Library. 2010. https://www.library.yale.edu/walpole/programs/hair.html (1 June 2015).