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Caricature: Why, When, What and Where Did It Come From?

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The only thing this hub won't cover is "How". Yes, you read correctly, this is not a "How To" hub. But if you're interested in the history of caricaturing, read on!


Caricature by Tom Richmond

What is Caricature?

Caricature is a distorted picture of a person, intended to be humorous, satirical, or insulting. The caricaturist usually exaggerates an easily recognized feature of the subject's appearance or habits, such as a large nose, bushy eyebrows, an unfriendly expression or a distinctive way of dressing.

Until recently, affectionate caricature was less common, which emphasizes some admired or warmly regarded trait. The subject of a caricature may be either a particular person or an easily recognizable type. Usually the caricature can be appreciated only if its subject is well known.

A political cartoon, for example, may caricature a public figure by endowing him with animal characteristics. Political leaders are constantly caricatured in cartoons that appear in newspapers and magazines. These caricatures are intended as comments on political events, and they may show politicians as praiseworthy, ridiculous or even evil.

Literary forms of caricature include satire, parody, and burlesque, all of which ridicule subjects through comic exaggeration. The term "caricature", however, generally refers to pictorial representations.

Caricature in the modern sense, the distortion of a real person or type, was first practiced by such Renaissance artists as Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Diirer. Extreme exaggeration characterizes the 16th-century grotesque art of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel. At the same time, caricature became an independent art in the satirical portraits of Annibale Carracci.

The term caricatura was first used by Annibale Carracci, the classical painter, to signify drawings pregnant with wit (caricare, to load).

The History of Caricaturing

In Roman frescoes there were comic figure-groups, probably illustrating satirical drama. The medievals enjoyed the fantasy of gargoyles and representations of devils. Leonardo da Vinci and Durer compensated for their pursuit of the ideal by sketching portraits of the anti-ideal. Bosch and Pieter Brueghel developed a vein of comic genre, mocking simpletons as did Shakespeare on the stage.

The modern form of caricature appears to have originated in Italy around the 16th Century, and to have flourished particularly in Bologna. Although essentially a vulgar or popular art, it has at times reached heights of considerable aesthetic value and many of the great masters of painting, from Leonardo to Picasso, have used it both as a serious element in their art and as a diversion. The element of caricature appears in most great portraits.

In the visual arts it usually appears as the repartee of the artist. It got Daumier into prison (when he drew Louis Napoleon in the form of a pear fruit that symbolized the essence of stupidity), ruined Cruikshank, when he published "The Bottle", a series of engraved caricatures attacking the liquor trade, earned the Dutch war cartoonist, Louis Raemaekers, a £10,000 price on his head (bestowed by the German Government) and sent the German satirist, George Grosz, into hasty exile from Nazi Germany.

Its value as a political weapon is obvious, there is no more devastating weapon in public life than ridicule, but its very effectiveness in this sphere has been responsible for its debasement as an art. Today, in the English speaking countries, it has become so respectable that its aesthetic properties have virtually disappeared.

Deliberate pictorial attack on the appearance of political leaders was introduced in England about the middle of the 18th Century, by George Townsend, though symbolic representations of people and of institutions, such as the Papacy, had existed for over a century previously. William Hogarth (1697-1764) was the great originator of satire directed against social custom and foible. Hogarth's series of engravings The Rake's Progress caricatured the manners, dress, and occupations of various contemporary types.

Towards the end of the 18th Century, caricature was greatly encouraged by the increasing number of magazines and the cheapness of engraving and lithograph-printing. Fashion, medicine, but above all the private lives and characteristics of politicians, were portrayed with increasing brutality and coarseness. Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) ridiculed such types as the aristocrat, the pedant, the old maid, and the actress and Gillray (1757-1815) carried this fashion to its extreme with his brilliant gift of draftsmanship.

With the early years of the 19th Century, caricature, as exemplified in the work of George Cruikshank (1792-1878), John Doyle (H.B.), and Robert Seymour, became less crude and more devoted to direct humor. One of the great social and political caricaturists of the 19th century was the French lithographer Honore Daumier. His representation of King Louis Philippe as Gargantua led to Daumier's imprisonment.

The English application to caricature of the word 'cartoon' is said to have originated from the lambasting by the magazine Punch of the pretentious mural cartoons prepared for the decoration of the restored Houses of Parliament, leading to the satirical publication of 'Mr. Punch's Cartoons'.

Punch appeared in 1841 and subsequently became famous for its outstanding caricatures and employed a whole series of great comic masters— Leech, Doyle, Keene, Du Maurier, William Makepeace Thackeray, Phil May — and the tradition is still strong. A frequent contributor to Punch was Sir John Tenniel, whose illustrations for Alice in Wonderland featured the large heads and grotesque shapes of figures seen in distorting mirrors.

By 1930, with the exception of the work of such artists as Will Dyson, caricature as an art form had virtually disappeared in England. The post-war period, however, has seen a trend towards revival, in the pages of Lillivut, namely in the work of Ronald Searle and the Frenchman, Andre Francois. Among the finest examples of 20th century caricatures are the antiwar cartoons of George Grosz, the
portrait caricatures of Max Beerbohm, and the drawings of Saul Steinberg. The work of Steinberg, James Thurber, Peter Amo, and others, have made The New Yorker magazine noted for its caricatures.

A major type of caricature, the political cartoon, was developed in the United States by David Claypoole Johnston and Thomas Nast during the 19th century. Nast created the symbols of the Democratic and Republican parties, a donkey and an elephant. He was particularly famous for his exposure of civic graft and corruption in his cartoons of Tammany Hall. Nast's 20th-century counterparts include Herbert Block ("Herblock"), Bill Mauldin, and Rollin Kirby.

Yes, those illustrations above were done by me.

I've had an interest in art and illustration for as long as I can remember. I've always loved cartoons and comic books. And in 1998 I did a course in caricaturing.

I was disappointed with the results (at the time), because my style was nothing like that of the teacher (he was a freelancer who had a steady stream of work from the biggest newspaper in town). But I soon got over it and realised that I was still managing to capture the likeness, but with a different approach.

The tutor was a deft hand with water colors and detail. I on the other hand, after scribbling it in pencil, inking it, scanning it into the computer and rendering it in vector graphics, had something that represented a very simplistic style in line art.

Within a couple of years I did see some of my work in publication in two magazines with national (Australian) distribution. Both magazines however, though completely unrelated or associated with each other, changed ownership, and the freelance contributor was quickly forgotten. But by then my interest in web design was beginning to claim my undivided attention.


Shiza on April 16, 2012:

That was really helpful. Thanks :)

Glen (author) from Australia on February 10, 2010:

Thanks for the feedback Uva.

It's unfortunate. But change happens. Sometimes the breaks can swing our way though. The important thing is to not give up. Plenty will, but the longer you hang in there the greater the chance that an opportunity will eventually reveal itself.

Uva Be Dolezal from Washington State, searching for home town. on February 10, 2010:

This hub made me feel better about some of my hub getting a little too long and wordy. Also, as an artist who's drawn a few caricatures the ending where the magazines had a change of ownership, sounds too familiar. Not that, this exact thing happened to me, but I've written episodes for shows that were canceled or stories for zines that quit accepting submissions because they were scrambling to rebrand. etc.. It's nice to read some history every now and then, it puts our current situation in perspective, indeed.

interesting informative hub

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Mike Lickteig from Lawrence KS USA on September 07, 2009:

Good hub, I've had an interest in caricature for awhile but never developed my own skills in this regard beyond "hit or miss". When you nail it, caricature art is very enjoyable.

Wayne Tully from Hull City United Kingdom on June 09, 2009:

Some great caricatures you done there...particularly like the Will Smith one, but all of them are great.

I've not done caricatures for quite some time, but the few I still have in my own portfolio are quite good, so I could maybe do some more, just got a dragon and 3,ooo zombies to draw in my epic graphic novel coming soon!

Amanda Severn from UK on May 16, 2009:

Hi Darkside,

Caricature fascinates me, too. I've done quite a lot of conventional portraiture, and can always get a reasonable likeness, but to exaggerate reatures and expressions, yet still get a likeness, is quite a skill.

Glen (author) from Australia on May 13, 2009:

@The Good Cook, I'm too focused on writing to get back into illustration. I'm too busy to draw stuff for my own hubs! :D

The Good Cook on May 13, 2009:

This is amazing darkside. You are extremely talented in this field. Can we email you when we would like drawings to compliment our hubs? You could start an entirely new 'niche' business!

dianacharles from India on May 13, 2009:

very interesting and I think you very talented at this. Perhaps you should have done some of the hubbers and seen if we could recognize them?? ;)

shamelabboush on May 13, 2009:

Interesting information.

Jewels from Australia on May 13, 2009:

Great talent - thumbs up to the hub.

Mark Knowles on May 13, 2009:

darkside - these are Awesome. Great hub too. I never realized there was a history to this "art" :)

Al Hawkes from Cornwall on May 13, 2009:

A different topic for you darkside, very interesting and amusing, great sketches

Andria on May 13, 2009:

darkside - an interesting hub. And an interesting talent. I like the angular, contemporary 'look' of the ones done by ZAH.

Thanks - rated up :)

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