Caricature Art
Satirical Drawings, Cartoons: History, Caricaturists


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Caricature Art (c.1500-present)


What is a Caricature? Definition
What is the Difference Between A Cartoon And A Caricature?
What is the Origin and History Of Caricatures?
What is Grotesque Art?
Who are the Most Famous Caricaturists?
- 19th Century
- 20th Century
- Contemporary
Art Evaluation: How to Appreciate Art


What is a Caricature?

A caricature is a drawing of a real person which distorts or exaggerates certain features, but still retains a likeness: in other words an exaggerated piece of portrait art.

Caricatures first became a popular genre of fine art in the 16th and 17th century and were created by satirists to ridicule public figures and politicians (a caricature with a moral message is considered a satire). They continue to remain popular today, and are used in magazines and newspapers to poke fun at film stars, politicians and celebrities. The only thing that has changed is the artist tools. Initially caricaturists used charcoal drawings, pencil or pen and ink drawings, but today an artist has access to graphics programs like Adobe Illustrator or Corel Painter.

Caricaturists have wielded significant power with their pen, far more so than a writer ever could. In the early days of the genre they transmitted messages without the need for the written word, important at a time in history when the majority of the population could not read. One of the most famous examples of this sort of graphic art is the satirical etchings of Napoleon Bonaparte by the British artist James Gillray (1756-1815). He depicted the French Emperor as very short and slightly ridiculous, in an oversized hat.

Today, as a result, we still think of him as being shorter than he really was. Caricatures may be one of the most populist forms of art, but as figurative drawings they are typically just as skilful and more influential than most portrait paintings.

See our educational article:
How to Appreciate Paintings.


What is The Difference Between A Cartoon And A Caricature?

Cartoons - typically images of fictional characters - were first published as part of a comic strip in the 19th century by the Swiss artist Rodolphe Topffer (1799–1846) in an attempt to create a new method of story telling. His concept was a forerunner of animation art and modern comic books. The first cartoons were intended for publishing in daily newspapers, so they were quickly sketched with little effort. In contrast caricatures and satires were often painstaking etched and were hand-coloured and printed in glossier publications. Even today this differentiation remains. A colourful caricature used to illustrate a magazine or newspaper article is often of obvious superior artistic quality than a comic sketch like Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts or Doonesbury. Of course nothing remains static for ever. With the advent of computer art, cartoonists have expanded the genre by creating sophisticated, highly complex cartoon images, particularly in the area of fantasy.

The British artist Giles (1916-95), famous for his work in the Daily Express newspaper, exemplifies the genre of political cartoons versus caricatures. He created a fictional cartoon family, dominated by the enigmatic "Grandma", which frequently commented on contemporary British and world politics, but from within a fictional setting: no portraits or drawings of real-life people were done.

Despite these differences, however, the word "cartoon" is still used as a popular synonym for "caricature". The role of Punch magazine in this terminological issue, is referred to below.


What is The Origin and History Of Caricatures?

The word caricature comes from the Italian words carico and caricare, meaning 'to load' or to 'exaggerate'. In the 1590s the Italian Annibale Carracci (and his brother Agostino) applied these words to some exaggerated portrait sketches they created. The descriptions they left, mention that the images were meant for humour to mock their own artistic theories which they taught at the Bologna Academy. Today we might wonder why it took so long for caricature to become a recognized form of art. Yet, it needs to be remembered that for hundreds of years artists strived to create perfect natural representational art, which was always considered to be the end goal. By the time of the High Renaissance, this had been achieved to a greater degree. Only after High Renaissance artists learned how to produce a 'perfect likeness' could they start to disassemble it. Actually, this process went on for hundreds of years until eventually we ended up with completely abstract art in the form of Mondrian's geometric concrete art). Caricature remained very much an Italian artform for the next hundred years - although in Northern Europe Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525-69) and other contemporaries were also drawing exaggerated human portraits.

It could also be argued that artists in the Late Middle Ages who were drawing biomorphic animals like gargoyles on the corners of illuminated manuscripts were even earlier caricaturists. Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) was influenced by these drawings and used the imagery in his paintings like Garden of Earthly Delights (1500-05). After Bosch, the next authentic caricaturist was the Italian artist and designer Giuseppe Arcimboldo ((1527-93), active in Prague, who painted a series of burlesque portraits of Emperors and Kings, using painted forms of vegetables, pots, pans and even workmen's tools. Back in Italy, the sculptor Bernini (1598-1680) drew amusing portraits to mock both himself and friends. He wrote that a character could be captured with merely 'a few pen strokes'. The first artist to set himself up as a professional caricaturist was called Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674-1755), he was also a Rococo painter. Ghezzi made a healthy living out of producing amusing drawings of tourists visiting Italy.

By the mid 1700s enough Italian caricatures had arrived back in London to peak the interest of the publisher Arthur Pond. Pond printed a set of drawings by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), Carlo Maratti (1625–1713) and Ghezzi, all of which were well received. From the 18th century, satirical caricatures became all the rage in France, Britain and America. The painter William Hogarth (1697-1764) was one of the first English artists to resort to exaggerated cariacture-style portraiture - mainly in the form of moralistic genre paintings and prints, such as "The Harlot's Progress", "The Rake's Progress", and "Marriage a la Mode" (see: National Gallery London). Later in the 18th century, artists started transforming people into other things such as animals, vegetables and fruits. English caricaturists like James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827) depicted politicians of the French Revolution as goats, spiders and pigs to depict lechery, cunning and gluttony. The human face of the subject was added to the body of the animal so that there was no confusion. In Britain Punch magazine was founded (1820s) and quickly became the most popular satirical magazine in the country. John Leech (1817-64) became one of its most famous illustrators. [Punch even caricatured the short-lived Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98) - one of England's great illustrators - as Aubrey Weirdsley.] (See also English Figurative Painting 1700-1900.)

NOTE: Punch magazine is also credited - during the period 1840-65 - with causing the word "cartoon" to replace the word "caricature", in particular as regards politicians and political imagery.

In France, the genre was dominated during the 19th century by the incomparable Honore Daumier (1808-79), who was famous for his cutting political cartoons in the anti-monarchist weekly La Caricature, one of which got him 6 months in jail for criticizing King Louis Philippe. In 1835, the French authorities banned all seditious types of art, norably political caricatures, whereupon Daumier switched to social cartoons. The key to his success as a satirist, was his ability to match a subject's mental state to a physical defect. He was greatly admired by important French painters like Delacroix (1793-1863) and Courbet (1819-77). Another indirect contributor to the genre was the French printmaker and poster artist Jules Cheret (1836-1932), who developed a cheaper type of colour lithography, used in poster art and publishing.

The advent of the railway meant that magazines could be quickly and widely distributed to an increasingly growing audience. With one stroke of a pen, a politician's image could be destroyed. Today the tradition continues, and artists draw on the natural characteristics of the subject - for example, if the person has a large nose, this will be exaggerated, or if they have any peculiarities such as a choice of hair style or mannerisms, these will be played on.

Caricature art was very much in evidence at the turn of the century and after, as the political temperature rose before the advent of television. World leaders were satirized, military leaders were lampooned, as international conferences came and went. There is a famous drawing by the Australian cartoonist Will Dyson (1880-1938) which he created in 1919, at the end of World War I. It showed the leaders of the victorious nations walking out of a room, having concluded the treaty of Versailles in their favour. But a young child is weeping in the corner, she is called the Class of 1940. It shows remarkable foresight as many historians regard the outcome of the Versailles treaty as being one of the main causes of World War II.

While newspaper caricatures gained in popularity, a number of painters - notably Whistler (1834-1903), Toulouse Lautrec (1864-1901), George Grosz (1893-1959), and Ben Shahn (1898-1969) pursued caricature in fine art painting.

In the years following the First World War, with the huge growth in newspapers and other periodicals, the genre underwent a renaissance in the United States, with caricatures accorded a popularity rivalling photographs. A new wave of young draftsmen like Al Hirschfeld and Miguel Covarrubias showed that caricatures could be amusing, colourful, and graceful - not merely acerbic visual comments placed on the editorial page. In Britain, Punch magazine maintained the tradition of political cartoon art and caricature throughout the period 1950-92. Then, during the 1980s, the highly influential and image-shaping British TV show "Spitting Image" lampooned the politicians and union leaders of the Margaret Thatcher era.

What is Grotesque Art?

Grotesque art was a term given to portraits where the face is distorted into an ugly form. One of the best examples is a series of 'grotesque heads' from the 1490s by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). While the artist probably meant them to represent an extreme facial form (not necessarily drawn for humour), by the 18th century grotesque drawings had been renamed caricatures. Other artists who could be said to have practiced grotesque art include Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Hieronymus Bosch.

Who are the Most Famous Caricaturists?

Famous 19th Century Caricaturists

In addition to those already mentioned in the article, the most famous caricaturists of the 19th century are:

George Cruikshank (1792–1878)
English artist who created political satires of the British royal family and famously accepted a £100 bribe to stop printing pictures of King George III. In addition, he was famous for his social caricatures of British life for publications like The Cruikshank Comic Almanack (1835-1853) and Omnibus (1842). He was also a master of book illustration, creating drawings for Charles Dickens and others.

Honore Daumier (1808–79)
Honore Daumier, the great French artist and printmaker - now seen as the "father of modern caricature" - was a highly influential social and political satirist in his day, who produced more than 4,000 lithographs (mainly political/social caricatures) for French newspapers and periodicals.

Thomas Nast (1840–1902)
American editorial cartoonist who is considered the father of political caricature in the United States. Among famous drawings attributed to Nast, are the original caricatures of Santa Claus, the Republican Elephant, and the Democratic Donkey.

Famous 20th Century Caricaturists

The most famous caricature artists of the 20th century include:

Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956)
Illustrator, caricaturist, cartoonist. He was so gifted at drawing, that by the turn of the century he was Germany's leading political cartoonist, and a successful caricaturist for a clutch of German and American publications. In 1906 he was head-hunted by the Chicago Tribune.

Sir Max Beerbohm (1872–1956)
British artist who had hundreds of his caricatures printed for fashionable magazines of the day like Vanity Fair and Strand Magazine - though despite this he is best remembered for his novel Zuleika Dobson (1911).

William Gropper (1897-1977)
Celebrated Communist cartoonist, noted for his caricatures and social realist drawings.

Alex Gard (1900–48)
Russian artist who produced over 700 caricatures of celebrities and other fashionable people who frequented popular New York restaurants.

Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003)
American artist best remembered for his simple black and white drawing of famous celebrities and show-biz stars, as well as his cartoon drawings of politicians and TV stars. He was one of the few artists to be commissioned to provide art for U.S. postal stamps. Hirschfeld's work appears in several American art museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) and the Museum of Modern Art (New York).

Jose Miguel Covarrubias Duclaud (1904-57)
Mexican painter, caricaturist and illustrator whose caricatures of celebrities appeared in The New Yorker and especially Vanity Fair.

David Levine (b.1926)
Eminent Americam caricaturist, famous for his pen-and-ink caricatures of famous writers and politicians, published in Time magazine, Playboy magazine, The New York Times and The New York Review of Books.

Mort Drucker (b.1929)
Caricaturist with MAD magazine since 1957, he if most famous for his caricatures of film stars and TV actors, he has contributed covers and inside-images to Time magazine on many occasions. He has won a number of awards from the National Cartoonist Society.

Gerald Anthony Scarfe (b.1936)
English caricaturist, illustrator for The New Yorker and editorial cartoonist for The Sunday Times. A former friend of the caricaturist Ralph Steadman, Scarfe was an early contributor to the scurrilous magazine Private Eye during the 1960s and 1970s, and also created illustrations for The Daily Sketch, The Evening Standard and Punch magazine. Later he produced caricatures for the credits of the famous satirical TV shows Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, as well as a series of drawings expressing the heroic and heinous characteristics of famous Britons, including: Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie, The Beatles and Diana, Princess of Wales.

Ralph Steadman (b.1936)
British caricaturist and former friend of the artist Gerald Scarfe, he is noted for his political and social illustrations, for the American writer Hunter S. Thompson. In 1979 he was voted Illustrator of the Year by the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

Famous Contemporary Caricaturists

Sam Viviano (b.1953)
American cartoonist and caricaturist, and art-director of MAD magazine, whose drawings have appeared on the cover of Institutional Investor, in Readers Digest, Rolling Stone magazine, and many other publications. He is particularly famous for his crowd scenes.

Steve Brodner (b.1954)
Brooklyn-born political satirist and water colour artist. Noted for his satirical images of 21st century American politicians like Barack Obama and Sarah Palin.

Robert Risko (b.1956)
American artist who uses retro airbrushing techniques. Mentored by Andy Warhol, and influenced by the New York Deco revival, his works have appeared in numerous publications including Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Playboy and Esquire.

Jan Op De Beeck (b.1958)
Belgian caricaturist and expert at cross hatch and finger smearing. Noted for his books on caricature art. Was awarded the title of "World's Best Caricaturist" in 2003.

Sebastian Kruger (b.1963)
German artist known for his realistic but grotesque distortions of the faces of celebrities, typically captured in acrylic paint. He is noted for his lifelike depictions of Madonna as well as Keith Richards and Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones. Kruger's cartoonist art is regularly published in Playboy magazine as well as Stern, Der Spiegel, L'Espresso, and USA Today.

Hermann Mejia (b.1973)
Venezuelan caricaturist noted for his regular contributions to MAD Magazine. His work includes black & white illustrations with heavy cross-hatching, and works in watercolour. Received a Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society in 2003.

Ed Steckley (b.1973)
Milwaukee artist who draws for Cracked magazine.

Other well known contemporary caricature artists include Tom Richmond of Mad Magazine, Sam Norkin, Sergio Aragones, Rudy Cristiano, Pancho Willmarth, Bill Plympton, and Bruce Blitz.

• For the evolution of drawing, see: History of Art.
• For chronolgical dates, see: History of Art Timeline.
• For more about caricatures, cartoons, illustrations and comic strips, see: Homepage.

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