English Caricature from Hogarth to Punch

By Andrew Davies

13th September 2022

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I had to check the spelling of caricature to write this.  The OED defines caricature, as Andrew Davies did at the beginning of his entertaining lecture, as a picture, description or definition in which striking characteristics are exaggerated to create a comic or grotesque effect. Thus caricature is different from characteristic.  Think of Mr Punch’s nose, John Bull’s stomach, an orange Donald Trump or Boris Johnson’s hair all exaggerated to a point of fun.

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Enough semantics though. On a wet September evening, we romped through 45 minutes of printing history from the late 18th century, when William Hogarth worked out that “small sums from many” were going to make him richer than beautifully executed society portraits. Thus he capitalised on the newly affordable mass printing, allowing his famous black and white sixpenny pictures of Progress, both for the Rake and the Harlot, to reach a new, wider audience.  Lively, topical, exuberant and rude these impolite arts differed from the established polite arts of painting, architecture and sculpture. This was an era of questioning, enlightenment and new freedoms.  Artistic satire of the rich and famous was part of this genre developed further by Rowlinson, Gillray and Punch fuelling truth and dissent which arguably contributed to the great social movements of the 19th century.

Not to be narrowly constrained by his title, Andrew also looked back. Images of the 800 year old Lincoln imp, the roof bosses of Southwark Cathedral, including the devil swallowing a reluctant Judas Iscariot,  or mediaeval misericords proving subversive humour has been around for ever.  He looked forwards too, encouraging a quick Google to reveal that artistic skill continues to lampoon power.  Low, Blitt, Matt, Pugh, Giles, Lancaster, Bateman, Scarfe, Spitting Image - so many to choose from and laugh knowingly. As ever, a picture paints a thousand words.

Lucy Picton Turbervill

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