Biography: Gillray was the son of James Gillray, and the only one of his five siblings to survive childhood. Between the ages of five and eight, James was sent away to be educated at the Moravian Academy at Bedford. He was apprenticed to a letter engraver, Harry Ashby, who had a shop at the bottom of Holban Hill in London. The earliest engraving by Gillray that has survived was produced by him when he was twelve years old. Gillray found the work boring and he deserted his master to join a company of strolling players. He arrived back in London in 1775 and soon began selling his engravings to London print shops.
In 1778 Gillray became a student at the Royal Academy where he studied under Francesco Bartolozzi (1728-1815). Gillray set himself up as a portrait painter in Little Newport Street but did not obtain many commissions, and was forced to continue producing engravings for print shops. His first prints were chiefly devoted to social subjects but by 1782 he began to concentrate on political caricatures.
After 1791 Gillray worked exclusively for Hannah Humphrey, the younger sister of William Humphrey of Gerrard Street. Gillray's engravings helped Humphrey become London's leading print-seller. In 1793 Gillray starting living in a room above Hannah Humphrey's shop in Old Bond Street.
James Gillray appears to have held liberal views in his youth but after 1793 he became a supporter of William Pitt and the Tories. His cartoons were especially critical of Radicals such as Charles Fox, Tom Paine and Sir Francis Burdett. Gillray also attacked Nonconformist religious leaders such as Joseph Priestley and Richard Price.
In 1795 Gillray met George Canning, a close friend of William Pitt, Britain's prime minister. Gillray began contributing to Canning's Tory magazine, The Anti-Jacobin. In 1797 Canning arranged for Gillray to receive regular payments from the government as a reward for his attacks on the Whigs.
Gillray's eyesight began to fail in 1806. He began wearing spectacles but they were unsatisfactory. Unable to work to his previous high standards, he became depressed and started drinking heavily. He produced his last print in September 1809. He lapsed into insanity and was looked after by Hannah Humphrey's until his death on 1st June, 1815.