A Little About Caricatures!

For centuries, caricatures have been used and shared for the purposes of poking fun and mocking the great influencers.  Good influence or rather poor influence makes little difference.  If you make your presence impact then you are fair game for a potentially brutal or if you are lucky (not necessarily clever!) you may get off lightly.

The first identified caricature goes back to Roman times. Who knows what the cave paintings really depicted prior to that?  Is Stonehenge a 3D caricature of something a local builder made?  I somehow doubt it, but there is a lot of and facts behind these fun and somewhat clever or even rather cruel drawings……read on!

  1. The word ‘Caricature’ comes from the Italian ‘Caricare’ and means Loaded Portrait.  It combines with the word French word Charcuterie and links back to early Parisian artists using cured meets in their satirical portrayal of political figures of the time.
  2. An early Caricature definition is known to date back to the 1700’s with a reference in ‘Thomas Browne’s Christian Morals ‘When men’s faces are drawn with resemblance to other animals, the Italians call it ‘To be drawn in Caricatura’
  3. The earliest recorded Caricature dates back to the Pompeiian Era more than two thousand years ago.  It is believed to be of a Politian of the time.
Roman Caricature showing face of Roman Emperor

  4. One of the most famous Caricature Artists is Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), who sought people with deformities to pose as his models.

Leonardo da Vinci Caricature showing faces of deformed models

5. During the Battle of Quebec in 1759, Brigadier General George Townsend was known to have created caricatures of the General James Wolfe showing him as deformed, crass and hideous, which were highly amusing to fellow officers.

6. In the late 17th Century, the art became so popular in Britain, that a series of specialist publishing houses opened and would rent out portfolios by the day for the attraction and admiration of tourists and visitors.

7. Many caricature artists learn the art through self teaching.  Traditional art schools and colleges generally do not focus on the art of cartooning and characterisation

8. A popular form of caricature artistry is to work in amusement parks and drawn quick sketches of the patrons.  One time a young boy disliked his picture so much that in retaliation he drew one of the artist and left it on her chair when she went for lunch!  It showed the artist with big spiky hair, a miserable frown and geeky glasses.  Apparently the artist loved it and framed it!

9. Sardi’s is a  famous Times Square restaurant  known for its wall of Caricatures.  It’s a great tourist attraction for visitors with a keen eye for celebrity art.  Some of the silver screen subjects though have gone in and removed the posters that they didn’t approve of.  (Your secret is safe with us and you know who you are!)

Sardis wall of celebrity caricatures at Sardi's restaurant

 10. Busy social gatherings like weddings, conferences, amusement parks etc will give a fun service of caricature art to the visitors.  Here, there is definitely the need for speed and a good caricaturist will complete a black & white sketch in around 3 minutes.  Colour is completed in around 6.

11. Caricature artists’ big fear?  Average people!  The girl (or guy) next door – looking like the every day Joe without any distinguishing features will always bring the artist out in a sweat.  Here they are likely to focus on a feature such as jewellery, clothing, accessories in order to add the much needed life to the party.

12. Drawing caricatures from a photo can be a major challenge for the caricature artist.  These two dimensional ‘flat’ images don’t  project the personality and expression that is seen and felt when the subject is live and kicking.  Street artists in this case have a distinct advantage and high value works will require several pictures and different poses for the artist.

13. It’s a growing profession and one in high demand.  Historically, the hugely talented newspaper cartoonist was the epicentre of the art.  Now in such an intensely visual society, those looking for something more than the daily selfie will turn to the caricature artist for work that could be a family portrait or a gift.  With so much news media around us, some stories require so much more than just a photograph!

14. The highly coveted ‘Golden Nosey’ award is given each November at the ISCA (International School of Creative Arts) Caricaturist conference.  Hundreds of artists from around the world will collect for a week of guest-speakers, seminars and demonstrations. One of the days will feature a competition for the artists to draw each other, where awards are given for ‘Best colour technique’, ‘Most humorous among others.

15. The late New York Times cartoonist, Al Hirschfield would somewhere hide the name of his daughter, Nina in in his iconic cartoons.  As a kind of game for the readers, he would sneak in the number of ‘Ninas’ he has added in to his signature.

16. Another little secret was by Ipecacxink, who would add her own tiny portrait as a reflection in the pupil of her subject’s eye.  On other works, she would discreetly add a radio active symbol as a gesture to ‘the god-awful neon yellow shirts that we had to wear to work making us feel like we are radioactive’.  The undisputable sharp humour of the artist!

17. For better or for worse, the caricature artist is joining the digital revolution.  Traditionally, the artwork was born using pencils, markers, brushes and paper.  Some contemporary artists still use paint and brush.  However whilst the talent remains in the work of the hand and eye, the media can be transferred to something like an iPad Pro with Apple Pencil.  Saves so much time in sharpening pencils and cleaning brushes!  Can’t wait for Apple to produce the iKitchen!

18. Winston Churchill is considered to be the most caricatured politician in history.  Largely due to his incredible leadership during the second world war, but also as one of the most colourful and inspirational leaders of the time. His trademark cigars, hats suits and victory salutes made him the perfect subject.

Winston Churchill caricature smoking cigar with blue suit and bow tie

19. Legendary caricature artist Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003), famous for portraits of celebrities and stars of the time pointed out that ‘Artists are just children who refuse to put down their crayons!’  Also ‘Life isn’t a science. We make it up as we go’.

20. History has gifted us with an abundance of caricature quotations.  Here are a few favourites:

Caricature is the tribute which mediocrity pays to genius (Oscar Wilde)

Caricature is putting the face of a joke on the body of a truth (Joseph Conrad)

Sarcasm is a caricature illustrated by words (Mohammad Mustafa Thamar University)

When I was younger I wanted to become a caricaturist.  I’ve become a caricature (Karl Lagerfeld)

21. Caricatures in history have had major economic and political influence.  One of the true greats was by James Gillray depicting Napoleon Bonaparte in a huge strop.  Napoleon was quoted as crediting the eponymous artist saying that he ‘did more than all the armies in Europe to bring me down’

Napoleon caricature showing him in a panic banging his head

22. Not always taken with the humour intended, the creators (young and Minor) of this rather biting work below were almost thrown in to prison in 1917. Although they managed to stay the right side of the locks, the publication (The Masses) had lawsuits suspending production.

army war caricature cartoon showing large muscly headless soldier

23. MAD Magazine is a hugely successful bi-monthly caricature publication poking fun at movie stars, politicians and pretty much anyone in the public eye.  It was originally launched in 1952.  At its peak  in 1974, had a circulation of over two million.

MAD Cover showing Mark Zuckerberg and Alfred E Neumann

24. Although caricatures are typically two dimensional drawings, there have been a few exceptions to the rule.  For instance a teddy bear going by the name of Teddy Roosevelt was a popular Christmas toy.

25. Learning the art of caricature does not come easy and takes a huge amount of practice and persistence.  When you see an artist professionally creating an image it likely that he/she may have completed around 500 artworks unpaid before being able to charge a fee.

26. Mega Iconic and legendary cartoon series, The Simpsons has had guest appearances from some of the biggest stars in showbusiness.  They are cast as themselves with their own voice, however the onscreen character is a very simple but clever caricature of themselves.  Some of the most memorable are:

Actress and singer, Eartha Kitt

Coldplay frontman, Chris Martin

Music mogul, Simon Cowell

Comedienne, Ellen DeGeneres

Presenter, Ryan Seacrest

Scientist, Steven Hawking

Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg

Business guru, Martha Stewart

……. To name but a few!


27. Between 1984 and 1996, ITV’s Spitting Image created puppets of some of the most entertaining and brutally unforgiving caricatures of (Mostly British) actors, politicians and Royal Family.  It was a staple Saturday night ‘must see.’  The show was usually half an hour long and presented sketches and songs about the news and current affairs.  Some of the scenes were so topical, they were shot just in the days leading up to broadcast.

28. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was on most shows during her tenure and was characterised as a fearsome wild eyed dictator.  The real Mrs Thatcher apparently thought it was so funny that she bought her puppet when the series finished.

Margaret Thatcher spitting image puppet with picture of the real person

29. Caricature artists can reach the dizzy celebrity heights.  Some of the late great newspaper artists and cartoonists still draw a huge crowd after their passing.  Al Hirschfeld left us at 99 years old in 2003.  His desk and chair are on display in the New York Library for the Performing Arts. His work is on display in The Metropolitan Museum of Art aswell as The Museum of Modern Art in New York.

al hirschfeld desk and chair on show at the new york museum

30. Not all legends appreciate the work that has gone in to their portraits. Allen Funt was a big star between the 1940-1980. When in the 1960’s he saw his caricature created by Al Hirschfeld published on the front of a CBS TV review magazine he took immediate exception.  Funt threatened to leave the network if the publication went ahead.  It became a huge issue at the time, he was not giving in!

31. Caricatures can also unwittingly hit the headlines for very much unintended reasons. Former World Number 1 tennis icon Serena Williams featured in a famous Melbourne Newspaper caricature.   The artist Mark Knight focused on a Miss Williams’ tantrum in the match and the referee’s attempt at controlling the issue.  This image became the centre of a huge race row with a number of public figures of various races accusing the artist of ‘repugnant racism’.

Serena Williams caricature jumping on tennis raquet

32. Iconic and long running cartoon series, South Park is well known for its ‘celebrity guests’.  It’s a sign to say that a celebrity has officially made it when they are parodied on South Park.  The majority take it in the good faith and fun that it was all intended, however a few take it rather too seriously and make the hugest diva strop.  Tom Cruise was featured and went right to the top.  By an unfortunate co-incidence The humourless actor was being employed by Paramount Pictures and had just completed a Mission Impossible movie.  He refused any publicity and promotion of the movie unless the South Park parody was removed.  It was removed temporarily until the movie was released.  Then the South Park episode played and displayed to the world!  And everyone who the world knows.

33. How much would you pay for a caricature?  It’s a fabulous personal gift that you can get for around £20 from meettheartists.net or from various artists around the world.

Would you pay ten times that, or a hundred times that for a caricature?  Even if it was by a very famous megastar artist!  How about 5467000 times that?  At a Christies auction, New York in 2013, billionaire hotel magnate, philanthropist and art collector, Elain Wynn did exactly that.  The piece below is a triptych (artwork divided in to three sections) by the late Irish painter Francis Bacon, painted in 1969.  It is called ‘Three Studies of Lucian Freud’.

Mrs Wynn bought this incredible piece for $142.4 million (Just over £100 million.  It was the highest price ever paid for a painting.

Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud were best of friends until an argument broke that up in the 1970’s.  They would often sit as models to be painted by each other.  This particular masterpiece was created at the Royal College of Art in London.  Mr Bacon had his own studio there large enough to create all three works simultaneously.  Mid 1970’s the works were split and sold to different collectors, something that would have infuriated Mr Bacon had he have lived long enough to see it.  He maintained that the whole work would be meaningless if separated.

Thankfully in the 1980’s a Rome based collector reassembled the whole triptych back as it was created by the artist.  Now it belongs to the Wynns and is reunited in perfection.

three studfies of lucian freud caricature picture at Christies art auction

Thank you so much for reading this, would you please share it with anyone you think may also be interested.  Stay in touch and watch out for more insightful blogs about the wonderful world of art and artists.

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