"Scientific Researches! - New Discoveries in Pneumaticks! - or, an Experimental Lecture on the Powers of Air". Coloured etching by James Gillray, published 23 May 1802 by Hannah Humphrey St James's Street, London.
James Gillray’s satirical print shows a public lecture at the Royal Institution. The audience includes recognisable politicians, diplomats and intellectual women (‘bluestockings’). They look amused or disgusted as Sir JC Hippisley is given nitrous oxide gas by the physician Thomas Garnett and his assistant Humphry Davy. A diary entry by Lady Elizabeth Holland relates an event very similar to what Gillray portrays.
Chemical apparatus is on the bench, and a globe and electrical machine are visible in a room behind, known as the Repository of models. Count Rumford (founder of the RI) is standing in the doorway. The audience includes, left to right, the German attaché Tholdal and his wife; artist Peter Denys and his wife, and former pupil, Lady Charlotte; the poet William Sotheby; well-known bluestocking Federica Augusta Locke; Sir Henry Englefield; Lord Pomfret; Lord Stanhope; Lord Gower and Isaac Disraeli.
Gillray makes the most of a fart joke to reference the ‘hot air’ that contemporaries criticised in both gas research and radical politics. This print is one of the public attacks that led to nitrous oxide research being abandoned because of its proponents’ supposedly dangerous political views.