1902 Encyclopedia > Caricature


CARICATURE (Italian caricatura, i.e., " ritratto ridicolo," from caricare, to load, to charge; French charge) may be denned as the art of applying the grotesque to the purposes of satire. The word " caricatura " was first used as English by Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), in his Christian Morals, a posthumous work; it is next found, still in its Italian form, in No. 537 of the Spectator; it was adopted by Johnson in his Dictionary (1757), and only assumed its modern guise toward the end of the 18th century, when its use and comprehension became general.

Little that is not conjectural can be written concerning caricature among the ancients. Few traces of the comic are discoverable in Egyptian art,—three papyri only of a satirical tendency being known to exist, and these appearing to belong rather to the class of ithyphallic drolleries than to that of the ironical grotesque. Among the Greeks, though but few and dubious dataare extant, itseems possible that caricature may not have been altogether unknown. Their taste for pictorial parody, indeed, has been suffi-ciently proved by plentiful discoveries of pottery painted with burlesque subjects. Aristotle, moreover, who dis-approved of the grotesque in art, condemns in strong terms the pictures of a certain Pauson, who, alluded to by Aristophanes, and the subject of one of Lucian's anecdotes, is hailed by M. Champneury as the doyen of caricaturists. That the grotesque in plastic art was practised by the Romans is evident from the curious frescoes unearthed at Pompeii and Herculaneum ; from the mention in Pliny of certain painters celebrated for burlesque pictures; fiom the curious fantasies graven in gems and called Grylli; and from the number of ithyphallic caprices that have descended to modem times. But in spite of these evidences of Greek and Roman humour, in spite of the famous comic statuette of Caracalla, and of the more famous graffito of the Crucifixion, the caricaturists of the old world must be sought for, not among its painters and sculptors, but among its poets and dramatists. The comedies of Aristophanes and the epigrams of Martial were, to the Athens of Pericles and the Rome of Domitian, what the etchings of Gillray and the lithographs^' Daumier were to the London of George III. and the Paris of the Citizen King.

During the long dusk of the Middle Ages a vast mass of material was accumulated for the study ot the grotesque, but selection becomes even more difficult than with the scarce relics of antiquity. With the building of the cathedrals originated anew style of art; a strange mixture of memories of paganism and Christian imaginings was called into being for the adornment of those great strongholds of urban Catholicism, and in this the coarse and brutal materialism of the popular humour found its largest and freest expression. On missal-marge and sign-board, on stall and entablature, in gurgoyle and initial, the grotesque displayed itself in an infinite variety of forms. Often obscene and horrible, often quaint and fantastic, it is difficult, if not absolutely impossible, to determine the import of this inextricable tangle of imagery. It has been pretended that it constituted an immense network of symbolism, in which the truths of the Church were set forth in forms intelligible to the popular mind. A second interpretation is that it is merely the result of the decorative artist's caprice. A third school has sought to dis-cover in much of it the evidences of the struggle for supremacy between the secular clergy and the friars. Leaving all this on one side, however, until the appli-cation to archaeology of the comparative method shall have made the matter somewhat clearer, it will be sufficient in this place to remark the prevalence of three great popular types, or figures, each of which may be credited with a satirical intention,—of Reynard the Fox, the hero of the famous mediaeval romance; of the Devil, that peculiarly mediaeval antithesis of God; and of Death, the sarcastic and irreverent skeleton. The popularity of the last is evidenced by the fact that no less than forty-three towns in England, France, and Germany are enumerated as possessing sets of the Dance of Death, that grandiose all-levelling series of caprices in the contemplation of which the Middle Age? found so much consolation. It was reserved for Holbein (1498-1554), seizing the idea and resuming all that his contemporaries thought and felt on the subject, to produce, in his fifty-three magnificent etchings of the Danse Macabre, the first, and perhaps the greatest, set of satirical moralities known to the modern world.

It is in the tumult of the Renaissance, indeed, that caricature in its modern sense may be said to have been born. The great popular movements required some such vehicle of comment or censure ; the perfection to which the arts of design were attaining supplied the means; the invention of printing ensured its dissemination. The earliest genuine piece of pictorial irony that has been discovered is a caricature (1499) relating to Louis XII. and his Italian War. But it was the Reformation that produced the first full crop of satirical ephemerae, and the heads of Luther and Alexander VI. are. therefore the direct ancestors of the masks that smirk and frown from the " cartoons " of Punch and the Charivari. Fairly started by Lucas Cranach, a friend of Luther, in his Passionate of Christ and Anti-christ (1521), caricature was naturalized in France under the League, but only to pass into the hands of the Dutch, who supplied the rest of Europe with more or less satirical prints during the whole of the next century. A curious reaction is visible in the work of Peter Breughel (1510-1570) towards the grotesque diablerie and macaberesque morality of mediaeval art, the last original and striking note of which is caught in the compositions of Jacques Callot (1593-1635), and, in a less degree, in those of his followers, Stefano della Bella ( 1610-1664) andSalvator Rosa (1615-1673). On the other hand, however, Callot, one of the greatest masters of the grotesque that ever lived, in certain of his Caprices, and in his two famous sets of prints, the Misères de la guerre, may be said to anticipate certain pro-ductions of Hogarth and Goya, and so to have founded the school of ironical genre which now-a-days does duty for caricature.

In England, during the 16th century, caricature can hardly be said to have existed at all,—a grotesque of Mary Stuart as a mermaid, a pen and ink sketch of which is yet to be seen in the Rolls Office, being the only example of it known. The Great Rebellion, however, acted as the Reformation had done in Germany, and Cavaliers and Roundheads caricatured each other freely. At this period satirical pictures usually did duty as the title pages of scurrilous pamphlets ; but one instance is known of the employment during the war of a grotesque allegory as a banner, while the end of the commonwealth produced a satirical pack of playing cards, probably of Dutch origin. The Dutch, indeed, as already has been stated, were the .great purveyors of pictorial satire at this time and during the early part of the next century. In England the wit _of the victorious party was rather vocal than pictorial ; in France the spirit of caricature was sternly repressed ; and it was from Holland, bold in its republican .freedom, and rich in painters and etchers, that issued the flood of prints and medals which illustrate, through cumbrous allegories and elaborate symbolization, the principal political passages of both the former countries, from the Restoration (1660) to the South Sea Bubble (1720). The most distinguished of the Dutch artists was Romain de Hooghe (1638-1720), a follower of Callot, who, without any of the weird power of his master, possessed a certain skill in grouping and faculty of grotesque suggestiveness that made his point a most useful weapon to William of Orange during the long struggle with Louis XIV.

The 18th century, however, may be called emphatically the Age of Caricature. The spirit is evident in letters as in art ; in the fierce grotesques of Swift, in the coarser cliarges of Smollett, in the keen ironies of Henry Fielding, in the Aristophanic tendency of Foote's farces, no less than in the masterly moralities of Hogarth and the truculent satires of Gillray. The first event that called forth caricatures in any number was the prosecution (1710) of Dr Sacheverell ; most of these, however, were importations from Holland, and only in the excitement attendant on the South Sea Bubble, some ten years later, can the English school be said to have begun. Starting into active being with the ministry of Walpole (1721), it flourished under that statesman for some twenty years,—the "hieroglyphics," as its prints were named, graphically enough, often circulat-ing on fans. It continued to increase in importance and audacity till the reign of Pitt (1757-1761), when its activity was somewhat abated. It rose, however, to a greater height than ever during the rule of Bute (1761-1763), and since that time its influence has extended without a single check. The artists whose combinations amused the public during this earlier period are, with few exceptions, but little known and not greatly esteemed. Among them were two amateurs, the countess of Bur-lington and General Townshend ; Goupy, Boitard, and Liotard were Frenchmen ; Vandergucht and Vanderbank were Dutchmen. But it must not be forgotten that this period witnessed also the rise of William Hogarth (1697-1764). As a political caricaturist this great man was not successful, save in a few isolated examples, as in the portraits of Wilkes and Churchill ; but as a moralist and social satirist he has not yet been equalled. The publication, in 1732, of his Modern Midnight Conversation may be said to mark an epoch in the history of caricature. Mention must also be made of PauKfendby (1725-1809), who was not a professional caricaturist, though he joined in the pictorial hue-and-cry against Hogarth and Lord Bute, and who is best remembered as the founder of the English school of water-colour; and of John Collet (1723-1788), said to have been a pupil of Hogarth, a kindly and industrious humourist, rarely venturing into the arena of politics. During the latter half of the century, however, political caricature began to be somewhat more skilfully handled than of old by James Sayer, a satirist in the pay of the younger Pitt, while social grotesques were pleasantly treated by Henry William Bunbury (1750-1811) and Woodward. These personalities, however, interesting as they are, are dwarfed into insignificance by the great figure of James Gillray (1757-1815), in whose hands political caricature became almost epic for grandeur of conception and far-reaching suggestiveness. It is to the works of this man of genius, indeed, and (in a less degree) to those of his contemporary, Thomas Rowdandson (1756-1827), an artist of great and varied powers, that historians must turn for the popular reflection of all the political notabilia of the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries. England may be said to have been the chosen home of caricature during this period. In France, timid and futile under the Monarchy, it had assumed an immense importance under the Revolution, and a cloud oi hideous pictorial libels was the result ; but even the Revolution left no such notes through its own artists, though Fragonard (1732-1806) himself was of the number, as came from the gravers of Gillray and Rowlandson. In Germany caricature did not exist. Only in Spain was there to be found an artist capable of entering into com-petition with the masters of the satirical grotesque of whom England could boast. The works of Francisco Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) are described by Théophile Gautier as " a mixture of those of Rembrandt, Watteau, and the comical dreams of Rabelais," and Champfleury discovers analogies between him and Honore Daumier, the greatest caricaturist of modern France.

The satirical grotesque of the 18th century had been characterized by a sort of grandiose brutality, by a certain vigorous obscenity, by a violence of expression and intention, that appear monstrous in these days of reserve and restraint, but that doubtless sorted well enough with the strong party feelings and fierce political passions of the age. After the downfall of Napoleon (1815), however, when strife was over and men were weary and satisfied, a change in matter and manner came over the caricature of the period. In connection with this change, the name of George Cruikshank (1792 ), an artist who stretches hands on the one side towards Hogarth and Gillray, and on the other towards Leech and Tenniel, deserves honour-able mention. Cruikshank's political caricatures, some of which were designed for the squibs of William Hone (1779-1842), are, comparatively speaking, uninteresting; his ambition was that of Hogarth—the production of " moral comedies." Much of his work, therefore, may be said to form a link in the chain of development through which has passed that ironical genre to which refer-ence has already been made. In 1829, however, began to appear the famous series of lithographs, signed H.B., the work of John Doyle (1798-1868). These apt but feeble jocularities are interesting other than politically; thin and weakly as they are, they inaugurate the style of political caricature which obtains, with but few and slight variations, at the present date. In France, meanwhile, with the farcicaldesigns of Pigal and the realistic sketches of Henri Monnw?, the admirable portrait-busts of Dantan the younger, and the fine military and low-life drolleries of Charlet (1792-1845) were appearing, and in these modern social caricature may be said to be fairly embodied. Up to this date, though journalism and caricature had some-times joined hands (as in the case of the Craftsman and the Anti-jacobin, and particularly in Les Revolutions de France et de Brabant and Les Actes des Apdtres), the alliance had been but brief; it was reserved for Charles Philipon (1802-1862), who may be called the father of comic journalism, to make it lasting. La Caricature, founded by Philipon in 1831, and suppressed in 1833 after a brief but glorious career, was followed by Le Charivari, which is perhaps the most renowned of the innumerable enterprises of this extraordinary man. Among the artists he assembled round him, the highest place is held by Honors Daumier, a draughtsman of great skill, and a caricaturist of immense vigour and audacity. Another of Philipon's band was Sulpice Paul Chevalier (1801-1866), better known as Gavarni, in whose hands modern social caricature, advanced by Cruikshank and Charlet, assumed its present guise, and became elegant. Mention must also be made of Grandville (1803-1847), the illustrator of La Fontaine, and a modern patron of the mediaeval skeleton; of Travies, the father of the famous hunchback " Mayeux;" and of Amedee de Noe, or " Cham," the wittiest and most ephemeral of pictorial satirists. In 1840, the pleasantries of "H.B." having come to an end, there was founded, in imitation of this enterprise of Philipon, a comic journal which, under the title of Punch, or the London Charivari, has since become famous all over the world. Its earliest illustrators were John Leech (1817-1864) and Richard Doyle, whose drawings were full of the richest grotesque humour. It is in the pages of Punch that the growth of modern pictorial pleasantry may best be traced. Of late years all the " cartoons," or political caricatures, have been the work of John Tenniel; they exhibit few of the features of caricature as it was understood by Gillray and Daumier; their object is not to excite hatred or contempt, but at most to raise a smile. In social subjects, George Dumaurier, a fine draughtsman, though somewhat mannered and fond of a single type of face and figure, has carried the ironical genre, received by Leech from Gavarni and Charlet, to the highest point of elegance it has attained.

Of caricature, in the primitive sense of the word, there is but little. The fall of the French Empire and the subsequent siege of. Paris, together with the reign of the Commune—a popular movement, though confined to a single city—produced a plentiful crop of genuine carica-tures, remarkable both for bitterness and for ability. Among the few caricatures that now find favour may be mentioned the graceful and genial caprices of Sambourne, the clever portraits of "Gill," a Parisian artist, and especially the remarkable series of portraits published in London since 1862, in Vanity Fair, the work of Pellegrini, which are certainly the most remarkable of their kind that have appeared since the superb grotesques of Honoré Daumier.

See Grose, Rules for Drawing Caricature, with an Essay on Comic Painting, London, 1788, 8vo ; Malcolm, Historical Sketch of the Art of Caricaturing, London, 1813, 4to ; Wright, History of Caricature and Grotesque in Literature and Art, London, 1865 ; Jaime, Musée de la Caricature; Champfleury, Histoire de la Caricature Antique, Paris, 8vo ; Histoire de la Caricature Moderne, Paris, 8vo ; Histoire de la Caricature au Moyen ge, 8vo ; Histoire de la Caricature sous la République, laRestauration, et l'Empire, Paris, 8vo.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries