A phrenologist, identified as J. De Ville, places his right hand on the forehead of a young man who is kneeling at the center of the image. A well-dressed woman, probably the young man’s mother, observes the action from the left of the scene while a clerk writes "very large wit no 32" in a book at the far right. A table stands in front of De Ville and holds books, a phrenologically numbered skull, and a note recording the murderer J. Thurtell as a "craniologically...excellent character." The scene is set in an office: a bookshelf lines the right wall, and portraits of phrenologically interesting specimens hang at the back of the room.

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Printing Context: 

Originally printed on February 24, 1826. It was later bound in The Cruikshankian Momus.

Associated People: 

James De Ville (1777-1846)

James De Ville was a "professor of Phrenology” and an author of phrenological texts, with a consulting room in the Strand (R. H., “Phrenology” 82; Patten, George Cruikshank's Life 285). De Ville was an officer of the London Phrenological Society and frequently spoke at the society’s meetings (Phrenological Journal 259 and 262). One contemporary article describes De Ville’s lectures as follows: “Mr. De Ville began with an explanation of the first principles of the science, and, excepting bad grammar, bad pronunciation, and cockneyism, he succeeded pretty well” (R. H., “Phrenology” 82).

De Ville was widely known for creating phrenological casts which exemplified the prominence of portions of the skull associated with individuality, philoprogenitiveness, inhabitiveness, and other phrenological “organs” (Phrenological Journal 262ff; A. H. “Letter.” 217). These casts were displayed in his consulting room as a “gallery” of phrenological types, a “numerous collection of desperately ugly specimens” (“Phrenology," The Literary Gazette 599). Many children were brought to De Ville’s consulting room in order that he might “ascertain [their possible] development” in various areas of education (R. H. “Phrenology” 82; Phrenological Journal 266).

John Thurtell (1794-1824)

John Thurtell's violent murder of William Weare in October, 1823 was sensationalized by crime journalism, ballads, plays, artists and authors. After Thurtell's death and subsequent dissection in London, parts of his body were stolen as memorabilia and his life story was used by reformers as an example of moral decline (Fraser). Phrenologists were especially interested in examining Thurtell’s head during the dissection, as is shown by both the print above and contemporary news articles:
The hair having been removed, the head [of Thurtell] appeared exceedingly well formed, and the want of expansion of the forehead was less remarkable than in life . . . Among those who were most anxious in their attendance, to examine the body . . . were a class of people called phrenologists, who were all a-gog to find a very common prominence behind and above the ear, which they are pleased to call ‘the organ of destructiveness,’ or murder. Most unfortunately for the cultivators of this science, it happens that the said bump or prominence is not to be found in the head of what was Thurtell; in other words, that the organ of destructiveness was not at all prominent or developed. (“Further Particulars of Thurtell, &c.” )

Associated Texts: 

Bumpology and Cruikshank's image Combativeness, originally created for Phrenological Illustrations (1826), are bound with the print in The Cruikshankian Momus (1892).


Cruikshank’s Bumpology (1826) satirizes a particular phrenological moment—James De Ville’s examination of children in order to predict their intellectual, artistic, and moral potential—that was well documented in contemporary periodical accounts. The print also includes a reference to a murderer, John Thurtell, suggesting the public’s interest in using phrenology to identify criminals.


Phrenology. Science. Education


By illustrating the "'primitive" or "natural inclination of man" as explained by phrenologists, Cruikshank's work reveals the association between disfigurement and character as it was used by both phrenologists and caricaturists (Stafford, "Conjecturing the Unseen" 344). More specifically, this piece pokes fun at the pseudo-science's claim to an infallible "reading" of the subject, while also revealing and satirizing its immense popularity. Bumpology also implicitly questions the appropriate uses of phrenology, a topic of popular debate since the latter's inception as a "scientific" field. While the viewer’s attention is focused on the domestic application of phrenology to the young man’s educational advancement, the reference to Thurtell suggests phrenology’s other uses. Cruikshank thus records the public’s interest in using phrenology to identify criminals, an interest also documented in news articles and phrenological tracts like The Phrenological Journal (“Further Particulars of Thurtell, &c.”; Phrenological Journal 297ff). The application of phrenology to a photographic archive of criminals is well documented by Allen Sekula (11ff).


Social caricature satirized popular trends not simply in order to entertain but also to inform or alter public opinion. Caricatures of phrenology taught the “clinical gaze” by illustrating the pseudo-science’s usefulness (or lack thereof); in this case, phrenology is shown as a potential tool in the development of individualized educational programs for children based entirely on a reading of an exterior believed to correspond to one's intellectual properties.


Cowling, Mary. The Artist as Anthropologist: The Representation of Type and Character in Victorian Art. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989. Print.

Cruikshank, George. Phrenological Illustrations. London: George Cruikshank, 1826. Print.

Cruikshank, Isaac. The Cruikshankian Momus. London: John C. Nimmo, 1892. Print.

Fraser, Angus. “Thurtell, John (1794–1824).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Web. 30 Apr. 2009.

“Further Particulars of Thurtell, &c.” Examiner 18 Jan. 1824: 40-41. Print.

H., A. “Letter.” The Gentleman’s Magazine Sept. 1825: 216-7. Print.

H., R. “Phrenology.” Republican 14.3 (1826): 82-6. Print.

Karp, Diane. "Madness, Mania, Melancholy: The Artist as Observer." Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin 80.342 (1984): 1-24. Print.

McLaren, Angus. "Phrenology: Medium and Message." The Journal of Modern History 46.1 (1974): 86-97. Print.

Patten, Robert. "Conventions of Georgian Caricature." Art Journal 43.4 (1983): 331-8. Print.

Patten, Robert. George Cruikshank's Life, Times, and Art: 1792-1835. Vol. 1. Rutgers UP, 1992. Print.

The Phrenological Journal and Miscellany Vol. 3. (August, 1825 – October, 1826): Edinburgh, 1826. Print.

"Phrenology." The Literary Gazette: A Weekly Journal of Literature, Science, and the Fine Arts. 660 (1829): 599-600.

Sekula, Allen. “The Body and the Archive.” October 39 (1986): 3-64. Print.

Stafford, Barbara Maria. Body Criticism: Imagining the Unseen in Enlightenment Art and Medicine. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press: 1991. Print.

Stafford, Barbara Maria. "From 'Brilliant Ideas' to 'Fitful Thoughts': Conjecturing the Unseen in Late Eighteenth-Century Art." Zeitschrift fur Kunstgeschichte 48.3 (1985): 329-63. Print.

Long Title: 

BUMPOLOGY. (Published 4th February 1826.) H. T. D. B., Esq., del. Etched by G. Cruikshank. Deville the phrenologist (once of the Strand) in his consulting-room-- "Pores o'er the cranial map with learned eyes, Each rising hill and bumpy knoll descries; Here fatal fires, and there deep mines of sense, His touch detects beneath each prominence." Note.-- The cast upon the professor's table, taken from the head of the murderer "Thurtell, shown to be craniologically an excellent character."