Monday, January 30, 2017

What the Puck is going on! Part I

 A very, very short history of the cartoon, along with the illustrative magazines,  La Charivari (France), Punch (England) and Puck (US).

I began my research on political cartoons because I thought it would interesting during these current times. How to start? Who were the artists? What was the art form like from the beginning to now? What I found was a whole basket full of fascinating history. Join me now as I share with you some of what I learned.

To begin, I like the quote from Margaret Thatcher's home secretary, Lord Baker:

"I believe that if you can laugh at your rulers, you don't cut off their heads," he says. "Laughter is an escape for those kinds of pent up feelings. It helps make society calmer."
Well, said. Sometimes we may want to throw tomatoes at a politician but it's far better, and less messier, if we just enjoy the political cartoons in print and online. It does seem to help.

But In the beginning cartoons weren't the cartoons of today. Instead they were studies in sketch form for a more serious piece. Typically, in the Middle Ages, many cartoons were drawn for frescoes. Drawn on sturdy paper, the drawing would have pinpricks along the drawn line. When done, the paper would be hung up on the wall and a pounce used with soot to create an outline through the holes. The method is somewhat similar to some artists using a carbon-like paper to trace their artwork (of their work) onto a canvas.

But at the same time, the caricature was being created that would eventually play such a major part in modern day editorial/political cartoons. According to the Cartoon Museum:

The cartoon art form began with 'caricatura'.  A caricature - from the Italian caricare, to load or exaggerate - is a drawing that gives weight to the most striking features of its subject for comic effect.  The great Italian masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Annibale Carracci and Gian Lorenzo Benini, all drew caricatures.  These were technical exercises in virtuosity with the aim of defining the essence of a person in a few deft strokes of the pen.  

During the Reformation, the printing press and lithography were the new and profound technologies of the day, akin to our current smart phones. Martin Luther capitalized on this by visually soliciting the illiterate public with illustrated posters and pamphlets. He got his message across by using visual propaganda.

Eventually this type of communication morphed into the caricature and humor to get the message across. Interestingly, the father of the political cartoon (although he did not use the caricature form) was William Hogarth, a contemporary of Ben Franklin who is considered the father of the American political cartoon.

To begin, let’s discuss Hogarth (1697-1764).  The first thing you learn about him is that he was considered a pictorial satirist, social critic, and editorial cartoonist. He didn’t really believe that caricature would tell the story effectively so he stuck with his amazing draftsman’s skills and described the event with absolute meticulousness.

For instance, take South Seas Scheme, an editorial drawing on what became of society because this scheme was attributed to the stock market crash of 1720 (yes, it was happening in those days too). Check out the link above to understand the complicated visuals you are seeing in this picture—from the architecture to the Catholics, Protestants and Jews gambling in the lower left hand corner. It’s an amazing piece of art.

Eventually used to unite colonies against British rule.

While Hogarth was making a name for himself in England, so was Ben Franklin—the father of everything it seems sometimes. Both men were in correspondence  and some say that Franklin met Hogarth on one of his visits to England. Rumor does say that Hogarth died after he read a friendly letter from Franklin. 

So why is this so intriguing? Because in 1754, Franklin drew and published the now famous: Join, or die. cartoon. Was Hogarth an influence? Obviously, Franklin doesn't even come close to the artistic ability of Hogarth, but could have seen the potential in using "visual aids" to support an idea. 

According to the Cartoon Museum London, the golden age of these types of cartoons was from 1770 to 1830. The genre evolved, using more caricature and humor to get the point across. England was the hotspot with printers holding exhibitions and even selling the pieces for the absorbent price of two shillings.

However, even before that "golden age,", there were some rather outlandish cartoons about leaders. For instance, Robert Walpole, Britain's first prime minister got a bottom lashing for demonstrating over and over again, that you had to kiss his arse to get anywhere. (circa 1740)

Of course, as you can well expect there was a lot of fodder to be used for the American Revolution on both sides of the pond. The most explicit, I believe, was published by Ben Franklin called The Colonies Reduced, in 1767.

The woman is Britain and her severed parts are the colonies. This was a visual that Franklin used to epitomize his belief that the Stamp Tax of 1765 (one that was imposed without the colonists' consent) would eventually separate us from our motherland. 

Things started to heat up during the French Revolution in the latter part of the 18th century and artists rose to the occasion. Although England claimed neutrality regarding the revolution, cartoonists were not bound by having their own opinion. Here’s a great example from Thomas Rowlandson, comparing England and France, entitled, The Contrast 1792.

The English were against the revolution for obvious reasons and this cartoon, created by 
Thomas Rowlandson gives a glimpse at why--although perhaps not quite accurate.

By the late 1700s into the early 1800s, the caricature began to show it's comical face in editorial cartoons. One created in 1805 was regarding William Pitt vs. Napolean. 

According to Wright & Evans, Historical and Descriptive Account of the Caricatures of James Gillray (1851), "The new Emperor, and his opponent the English Minister, [are] helping themselves—one taking the land, the other the sea. On the overtures made by the new Emperor for a reconciliation with England in the January of 1805."

And so now the door was opened to all sorts of political/editorial visuals. Where there are leaders and citizens, things don't always go well. In the case of Napolean, this was well recorded in cartoons in the early 1800s.

Birth of Bonaparte--not too flattering 1813
Then there is the after affects of the war against Russia. Cartoon published by George Cruikshank, 1814. Cossack pulling the cage.

On the American side, the Civil War truly inspired artists, especially Thomas Nast, who is said to be responsible for creating the Elephant for the Republicans, the Donkey for the Democrats and even the endearing drawing of Santa Claus. Many artists told the story, even more vividly than the photographers could back then.

Notice the US on drum. Lincoln never recognized the split.
Harper's Weekly 1864

McClellan and the Democratic Platform 1864

Union POW, Nast
The birth of illustrated magazines
Before our Civil War, there were illustrated magazines that were publishing political cartoons. One of the early ones was from Paris, France--an anti-Monarchy publication, entitled, Le Charivari  (1832 to 1937). Later came the Punch, London England (1841 to 2002) and in the States, Puck (1871 to 1918). Next month we are going to look at all three magazines to see what they offered to their readers.And then we'll conclude with a look at current day editorial cartoons.


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