Our June speaker Ian Keable paid tribute to the long line of artists who have kept our society and its leaders from becoming too full of themselves, writes Lionel Cartlidge
Ian Keable gave us an expert walk through the history of cartoons and their political and social impact. There are hints of cartoons as far back as Henry VIII, but the real beginning of the métier may be attributed to James Ward and a drawing called Double Deliverence produced in 1621.
The precursors of the modern cartoon began with William Hogarth in the early 1700s. We are all familiar with A Rake’s Progress and Marriage A-la-mode which illuminated familiar moral and social concerns of the time.
Ian gave us examples from two outstanding artists of the 18th and 19th centuries who are still admired today for their sharp, witty political caricatures, namely James Gillray (1756-1815) and George Cruikshank (1792-1878).
Gillray’s drawings were published and sold by Hannah Humphrey, his long-term companion, and were often aimed at George III, who claimed not to understand them. Perhaps his most famous cartoon, however, is The Plumb-Pudding in Danger, in which the world is being carved up into spheres of influence between Pitt and Napoleon.
Cruikshank inherited the title of the nation’s favourite cartoonist. His early work was social caricatures of English life but he soon moved on to lambasting the Prince Regent (later George IV) and parodying Whigs and Tories alike.
The 1820s saw the change from individual published prints to engraving and printing numerous copies, giving cartoons wide and inexpensive circulation in magazines and books. Thus began the development of cartoons as we know them today. Punch magazine was a major contributor of printed cartoons from 1841 and the line stretches to the present day through Sir John Tenniel, Max Beerbohm, Bruce Bairnsfather, HM Bateman, David Low, Ronald Searle and Giles to Private Eye. They have all cast a refreshingly satirical gaze on our society and our politicians. Long may it continue.
We are grateful to Ian Keable for an enjoyable introduction to a subject about which most of us knew very little.