Allegory of the Franco-American Alliance, 1778
Dramatic Satirical Print of the American Revolution by an Irish Printmaker
This fascinating engraving, which styles itself as having been drawn in Boston and printed in Philadelphia, is almost certainly the work of Irish engraver Richard Purcell, who frequently used the assumed name of Charles Corbut and who was active in Dublin from 1746. The Bulletin of the New York Public Library (1898) lists this print as issued in Paris in 1779.
A fine example of a Revolutionary engraving depict with brilliant satire based on the advent of the Franco-American alliance against Britain This print represents an English admiral with vulture's wings, tied to a tree; the American Congress (in the guise of a Native American sporting a feather headband) is clipping vulture's claws, while a Spaniard assists a Frenchman as the latter clips the wings of the English vulture; a second Frenchman gathers the tobacco supply abandoned by the unfortunate admiral while a fellow Englishman breaks his clay pipes (as there is no American tobacco left to smoke). A fat Dutchman (un gros Hollandais) plucks feathers from the English admiral as another Dutchman makes off with a package representing the erstwhile English trade in American goods. Each of these figures is identified with a number that corresponds to the key printed below the caption title.
The inclusion of a figure representing Spain aiding the French against the British admiral may be the reason the New York Public Library dated the print to 1779, when Spain officially entered the war with the signing of the Treaty of Aranjuez (April 12, 1779).
The caption continues with the following lines:
Tel qu'un apre Vautour devorant l'Amerique, Anglais, impunément tu crus la mettre a sac:
Mais pour la bien venger d'un traitement inique Il ne t'y reste pas une once de Tabac.
(Like a Vulture devouring America, Englishman, with impunity you thought you were sacking it:
But to avenge her well for an iniquitous treatment. There is not an ounce of Tobacco left).
The print is extremely rare. We note no auction records in the past 100 years (last offered American Art Association, 1920). Not in Peter D. G. Thomas' The American Revolution (The English Satirical Print 1600-1832).
Purcell was born in Dublin and studied with John Brooks. While resident in Dublin, he signed his prints R. Purcelle.
In 1755, he moved to London, where he apparently ran into hard times because of an extravagent lifestyle, which forced him to primarily work for print-sellers, such as Richard Sayer.
Some of his work includes caricatures and satirical work. He frequently signed his name Chas. Corbut or C.Corbutt, a name he may have taken on to hide from creditors.