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A cartoon is a drawing, representational or symbolic, that makes a satirical, witty, or humorous point. It may or may not have a caption and may comprise more than one panel. Cartoons usually appear in periodical publications. Most frequently, their targets are in the field of political or public affairs, but they may be social customs, fashions, or sports events or personalities.

In its original meaning, in the fine arts, a cartoon (from Italian cartone, meaning "paper") is a preliminary sketch for a large canvas or fresco painting, for an architectural drawing, for a tapestry design, or for pictures in mosaic or glass.

"Cartoon" acquired its present meaning in 1843, when a great exhibition of cartoons was given for a competition devised by Queen Victoria's consort Prince Albert to get designs for frescoes for the walls of the new Houses of Parliament. Many of the entries, though lofty in intention, were ludicrous, and John Leech drew a series of imitations in Punch, satirizing them and railing at social and political abuses of the day.

Political Cartoons

The invention of printing, by ensuring the circulation of pictorial satire to a large public, made caricature a possible arm of controversy and laid the foundations of the modern political cartoon. Great events and great figures were needed, however, to provide the impetus which would establish conventions for the new means of expression. In the early 16th century, the Reformation, Martin Luther, and Pope Alexander VI supplied these needs, and the passions engendered in theological conflicts so extended the range and scope of the prints that controversy-by-picture became an accepted feature of public life. Artistry and imagination were gained with the rise of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1520?-1569), the painter-satirist of Flanders. When the stream of grotesque started by Bruegel from Flanders, full of fantastic invention and rollicking symbolism, met another stream of graphic moralities, full of mythological allusions and heavy allegory coming from Italy, the political cartoon was on its way. In Italy in the 17th century, it was unsafe to be too openly critical of authority; therefore, to survive, political satire had to be ambiguous or disguised. In France also, Cardinal Richelieu, who dominated the government, severely discouraged comment in caricature. His successor, Cardinal Mazarin, was less sensitive and under his regime the social and political prints multiplied, though their quality remained dull and mediocre.

The Dutch School and Romeyn de Hooghe

At the end of the 17th century, encouragement to growth was found at last in the Netherlands, where the free republican spirit of the Dutch and the presence of many painters and etchers fostered a flourishing center of political caricature. Romeyn de Hooghe (1645-1708) stood out from among Dutch practitioners, not because he was a good artist but because he was a political propagandist of such skill and popularity that his services were in demand outside his own country. William of Orange employed him to advantage during his disputes with Louis XIV, and the latter is said to have competed vainly for his services. Caricatures, with captions suitably translated into various languages, became one of the Dutch exports to France and Britain. Prints on the eccentricities of English politics--from the Restoration (1660) to the South Sea Bubble (1720)--had already won popularity among the English by the time William of Orange crossed the channel in 1689 to become King William III of England.

Gillray and the English School

William Hogarth (1697-1764), the painter and etcher, began to create an indigenous English school. His inspiration was not political. It was his great individuality that most inspired the subject-etchers and engravers of the succeeding generation, among whom were the fathers of the political cartoon of later years, James Gillray (1757-1815) and Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827). Gillray took the caricatural art of Bruegel, the form and moral purpose of Hogarth, added his genius as a caricaturist of personality, and fashioned them into something recognizably akin to the modern political cartoon. Rowlandson was in some ways his superior as an artist, but preferred to satirize morals and manners, whereas Gillray was a born politician. George III, William Pitt the younger, Charles James Fox, Richard Sheridan, Lord North, and Edmund Burke appear vividly in his gallery of contemporary statesmen. With daring independence and a flow of comic, often grossly indecent, ideas, his wit was directed not only against the political and legislative abuses of his time but also against the morals of the royal family. Gillray favored principles of freedom and at first approved of the French Revolution, but the execution of Louis XVI and the work of the Terror were too much for him. It may be said that Napoleon Bonaparte and Gillray arrived at their highest form together--Napoleon as the raw material for caricature, and Gillray as the caricaturist. The matured artist dealt with the doings of "Boney the carcase-butcher" and his friends in a wide variety of unflattering images, sometimes giving offense to Napoleon.

In France, political caricature, which had been weak under Louis XVI, flourished vigorously just before and during the Revolution. Great numbers of prints, the "flying leaves" of the Revolution, passed from hand to hand. Bitter and forceful, they were mostly anonymous and of little artistry. In Britain, after the fall of Napoleon, passions slowly cooled and the temper of caricature changed. George Cruikshank (1792-1878) became the leading member of a new and more polite school. Cruikshank had been conspicuous earlier among the fiercer imitators of Gillray, but he abandoned political caricature for pictures of generalized social comedy and book illustration. A series of lithograph Political Sketches signed "HB" by John Doyle (1798-1868) reflected a milder mood. In the days when Gillray and Rowlandson flourished, England had been known as the "Home of Caricature". Caricature now quietly moved its home to France.

Philipon's "La Caricature" and Daumier

Following the Revolution of July 1830 events happened in Paris which vitally affected the future of the art. Charles Philipon (1800-1862), in November, founded La Caricature, the first distinct type of the modern illustrated satirical weekly. After four years of prosecutions, fines, and imprisonments, it was suppressed, but Philipon had already begun Le Charivari (1832), the first daily paper to print a new drawing every day. Philipon was a caricaturist himself and a born journalist with a rare perception of genius in others. Contributors to Le Charivari during the five years of its stormy life are of astonishing brilliance, and the campaigns of its famous "Phalanx" of caricaturists had much to do with the downfall of Louis Philippe, the "Citizen King" whose pear-shaped head Philipon exploited to the full in the Poire Royale (Royal Pear) series. Among Philipon's political cartoonists were Grandville (pseudonym of Jean Gérard, 1803-1847) and Charles Joseph Traviès de Villers (1804-1859), but his greatest find was Honoré Daumier (1808-1879). Daumier was an artist, a man of feeling rather than a politician, not lively in ideas, but masterly in depiction. His vivacity and strength as a political cartoonist did not mature until after he served a prison sentence for offending the king by presenting him as Gargantua. His lithographs Enfoncé Lafayette and Rue Transnonain show the simple power of his rendering of situation, and his series of portrait caricatures show his comprehension of individual character.

In emulation of Philipon's enterprise many comic and satirical papers arose in France, with brilliant artists to serve them, but most of them sketched the social rather than the political scene. The rise and fall of the Second Empire, the Commune, and fears of Prussia and Russia released a new flood of political caricature. Cham (pseudonym of Amédée de Noé, 1818-1879), not so much the successor as a follower of Daumier, was at his best in his lithographs of the follies of the Commune. André Gill (pseudonym of Louis Alexandre Gosset de Guines, 1840-1885) and Alfred Le Petit (1841-1910) were the most notable of numerous producers of savage cartoons against Napoleon III and his Empress Eugénie. Toward the end of the 19th century, British imperialism and the Dreyfus case were material for better drawing by Jean Louis Forain (1852-1931), Charles Léandre (1862-1934), and Caran d'Ache (pseudonym of Emmanuel Poiré, 1858-1909).

"Punch" and Tenniel

Philipon's example was followed in other countries also, and periodicals publishing caricatures, political and otherwise, began to appear all over Europe. In 1841 Punch, the London Charivari, appeared in Britain and the establishment of a new tradition based upon the outlook of the middle classes was advanced. The change was reflected in the drawings of John Leech (1817-1864) which, incidentally, were the first "cartoons," in that sense of the word, to be so called. Though some of Leech's earlier cartoons against Catholics and Jews were sufficiently biting and direct to excite anger at home, and others against Napoleon III and Nicholas I of Russia had Punch banned abroad, Leech's work later mellowed into social pleasantries.

Among his contemporaries was John Tenniel (1820-1914), the apotheosis of a dignified school, who had become the most significant English cartoonist of his day. He scrupulously eschewed vulgarity and specialized in statuesque personifications and symbols such as Britannia, Germania, Columbia, John Bull, Uncle Sam, the British lion, and the Russian bear. He was at his best on national occasions that called for commemoration in sedate treatment and his cartoons, extending over his long life, form an illustrated commentary on virtually the entire Victorian era. The most famous is Dropping the Pilot, drawn when the German emperor, young William II, dismissed Prince Bismarck. The relatively minor matters of party warfare were served by Harry Furniss (1854-1925). (Edward) Linley Sambourne (1844-1910), an impeccable draftsman, had a purity of line well suited to carrying on the Tennielesque conceptions, which were meticulously continued into the 20th century by Bernard Partridge (1861-1945), and, somewhat less solemnly, by Leonard Raven-Hill (1867-1942). Other distinguished cartoonists working during the latter half of the 19th century were Matt Morgan of Tomahawk and W. Bowcher of Judy.

"Simplicissimus" and Gulbransson

Philipon's example, again, inspired the start of Kladderadatsch (1848) in Berlin and of Die fliegende Blätter (1845), followed by Punsch and later by Simplicissimus, in Munich. The latter, a colored Socialist weekly, poked scorn at Junkers, Prussians, and the Kaiser. The progress of Bismarck and his aims may be traced through many undistinguished but highly critical German cartoons against Napoleon III and Nicholas I, but by the turn of the century the Simplicissimus team of cartoonists, Olaf Gulbransson, Bruno Paul, Thomas Theodor Heine, and Blix, had made Munich the most interesting center of European political caricature. The 20th century opened with plenty of subject matter in international fears, scandals in high places, and the Russo-Japanese, South African, and Balkan wars. German caricaturists, including C. Kunze, Feininger, Engert, and Gehrte, dealt particularly hard with Queen Victoria and her son Prince Edward.

United States and Nast

In America, after some importations and imitations of European styles, a more native school of talent emerged in a crop of anonymous lithographs inspired by the election of President Jackson, the Mexican War, the rise of slavery agitation and the Civil War. Popular feeling about the Civil War brought young Thomas Nast (1840-1902), an illustrator-reporter of Leslie's Weekly, to national attention with a cartoon defending Lincoln's policy. Later, working for Harper's Weekly as the graphic inventor of the Democratic donkey, the Republican elephant, the Tammany tiger, the rag-baby of paper currency, the cap-and-dinnerpail of labor, and other symbols familiar in American cartooning, Nast showed that the United States had a master whose imagination, draftsmanship, subtle portraiture, and effective composition were peculiarly appropriate to political cartoons. His most notable political, as distinct from artistic, achievement was his exposure of corruption in Tammany Hall which culminated in the overthrow and imprisonment of "Boss" Tweed. On Nast's retirement, his mantle hovered over his successor, O. G. Bush (1842-1909), who later left weekly for daily journalism, and settled on Joseph Keppler (1838-1894) and Bernhard Gillam (1856-1896). Political cartoons had become so popular that Puck was established (1876-1877), a colored comic paper in the German style with doublepage political cartoons by Keppler, one of its founders. Since Puck was sympathetic to the Democratic party, a rival, Judge, soon followed in support of the Republicans, with cartoons by Gillam. Gillam had been working for Puck, but changed sides, which enabled him to perform the peculiar feat of assisting Grover Cleveland and the Democratic party into power with ruthless cartoons in Puck, and then attacking both with equally ruthless cartoons in Judge.

The 20th Century to End of World War II

Before the turn of the century, daily newspapers had solved technical problems of reproduction and the daily "editorial" cartoon arrived as a regular feature of journalism, particularly in the United States. Distinguished early arrivals among the legion of cartoonists fostered by this encouragement were Homer Davenport (1867-1912), O. Cesare, and Frederick Opper (1857-1937). The style of drawing cartoons in chalk, which became a widespread convention among American editorial cartoonists, had its earliest and most talented exponents in Rollin Kirby (1875-1952) and Daniel R. Fitzpatrick. Of those to whom Americans looked for interpretation of news and events leading to the world wars, Ding (J.N. Darling), T. Brown, Nelson Harding (1879-1944), Harold M. Talburt, Carey Orr, Edmund Duffy, and Herblock (Herbert L. Block) have had honorable places, with Art Young (1866-1943), Boardman Robinson, William Gropper, and Robert Minor as thunder on the political left.

The most famous political cartoonist of World War I was a Dutchman, Louis Raemaekers. During the between-wars period in France, Nob, Hermann-Paul, and Sennep upheld French nationalism in varying degrees, with occasional anger against both their enemies and their friends during the troubled years of the Versailles Peace, the League of Nations, and the Ethiopian, Manchurian, and Spanish wars. In Germany, Gulbransson, supported by E. Schilling, Karl Arnold, Erich Wilke, O. E. Petersen, and Garvens, lent his considerable talent to depicting these events in their relation to the revival of German nationalism. In Italy, Mario Sironi, with his use of a peculiar mechanical style, supported the policies of Mussolini. The international outlook was preserved by Derso and Kelen, a partnership of talents, who "adopted" the League of Nations and, working at Geneva, supplied various papers with good-natured but penetrating cartoons of its doings from "on the spot."

The first British daily newspaper cartoonist was F. C. G. (Francis Carruthers Gould, 1844-1925), a Radical influenced by Tenniel in approach, who exercised his powers against the imperial policies of Joseph Chamberlain. The aggressive Gillray spirit seemed to have died out in British cartooning when Will Dyson (1813-1938), an Australian, came to London to prove that it had merely been renewing its youth overseas. Dyson's cartoons established him as a caustic critic of the British social-political order. During World War I his Kultur Cartoons against German militarism were of national importance. Poy (P. H. Fearon), S. Strube, and L. Illingworth redressed the balance on the side of amiability in the between-wars period, but another Antipodean, David Low (1891-1963), who was more interested in ideas than in parties, worked in turn for newspapers of all shades of opinion, criticizing their policies as he did so. Outraged by nazism, his work reached a crescendo with the rise and fall of Hitler.

Russian political caricature under the czars was undistinguished, but from the beginning of the Revolution of 1917 the Bolsheviks valued picture propaganda, and made plentiful use of political cartoons in window displays, in newspapers, on leaflets and banners, and as posters. Deni cartooned general events for Pravda, Boris Efimov pilloried the capitalist statesmen and their conferences in Isvestia, and Moor was the anti-God cartoon specialist for the atheistic papers. Then appeared Krokodil, a national comic paper, issued from the office of Pravda, printed in color and resembling the Munich Simplicissimus in appearance. Although at first there were attempts to develop particular Soviet schools of caricature, the Russian cartoonists soon returned to the styles of the bourgeois past and thereafter there was no discernible departure from the Western traditions in method, technique, or imagery. Restrictions on material, and official political direction, especially after 1946, were impeding circumstances, but there were always the alleged misdeeds of "capitalist warmongers" to inspire a prodigious output of vivacious cartoons by Efimov, by the Kukriniksi, a pen name covering three artists working jointly on the same drawing (Mikhail Kuprianov, Porfiril Krilov and Nikolai Sokolov), and by Broadaty, Eliseyev, and Ganf.

Postwar Cartooning

After World War II, political cartoons proliferated as weekly opinion publications adopted them. After 182 years of publication, the London Times started running a daily political cartoon in May 1966. The death of the prolific "Vicky" (Victor Weisz, 1913-1966), who reached his peak in the News Chronicle, left a gap in English political cartooning not easy to fill. Norman Mansbridge of Punch and Leslie Illingworth of the Daily Mail were in the great tradition of English cartoon art. Cummings of the Daily Express returned to the brutality of the early masters of the genre, and Gerald Scarfe, a free-lancer, drew with a skill, intricacy, and venom that would have been acclaimed in the 18th century.

In the United States, Herblock (Washington Post), Fitzpatrick (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), Edmund Duffy (Baltimore Sun), and Bill Mauldin (Chicago Sun-Times) dominated the field for many years. American cartoonists who established themselves somewhat later include Patrick Oliphant (Denver Post), Paul Conrad (Los Angeles Times), Gib Crockett (Washington Star), Hugh Haynie (Louisville Courier-Journal), Don Hesse (St. Louis Globe Democrat), and Guernsey Le Pelley (Christian Science Monitor).

David Low
R. E. Williams
Editor of A Century of Punch Cartoons

For Further Reading

Brooks, Charles, ed., Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year (Pelican, annually).
Feiffer, Jules, Fieffer: Jules Fieffer's America from Eisenhower to Reagan, ed. by Steve Heller (Knopf 1982).
Garrett, William R., The Early Political Caricature in America and the History of the United States (Am. Classical College Press 1979).
Gautier, Dick, The Art of Caricature (Putnam 1985).
Gonick, Larry, The Cartoon Guide to U.S. History, Vol. I: 1585-1865 (Harper 1987).
Hoff, Syd, Editorial and Political Cartooning (Stravon Educ. Press 1976).
Krieger, Bob, Krieger: In the Beginning: A Collection of Caricatures and Political Cartoons (Riverrun Press 1985).
Low, David, Years of Wrath: Cartoon History 1932-1945 (David & Charles 1986).
Paine, Albert B., Thomas Nast: His Period and His Pictures (1904; reprint, Ayer 1981).

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