Click on photos to enlarge.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Artists Who Did Caricatures

Perhaps the greatest caricaturist who ever lived, Al Hirschfield, signing a series of prints around 1997, including his famous Bob Hope image (below, left).

Bob Hope, 1997, Al Hirschfield
Famous people get caricatured. Famous people sometimes are, breathing caricatures of themselves. Most often that tends to be the case with entertainers. Artists, who are, in a sense, entertainers, albeit once removed, have also been victimized by caricaturists. The list is too endless to cite here. Easier, perhaps, to list the ones who have not been the subjects of caricatures...if there are any. The number of caricature artists is likewise almost endless. Their styles vary from extremely simple contour drawings (perhaps the most difficult type) to fairly flattering oil portraits, having little distortion. However, the list of famous artists who have also drawn caricatures, mostly as a sideline in order to bank a few extra bucks...or francs, or pounds, or lira, is much more limited. Likewise, their various styles pretty much run the gamut.
Leonardo da Vinci caricatures, said to be from around 1490...vicious.
Perhaps the most famous artist to ever try his hand at caricatures was Leonardo. It takes a good portrait artist to turn out really good caricatures (which accounts for the reason so many caricatures drawn today are simply god-awful. Some caricature artists are loving, kind, and gentle in their depictions. Leonardo's could only be classed as "vicious." These are probably not famous individuals having political power. That sort of thing didn't happen much until the 19th century. Before that, such identifiable images could get the artist arrested.

Honore Daumier's 1831 caricature of King Louis Philippe devouring
the francs still touches a painful chord, even today.
Daumier targets writers and literary critics in
his 1864 vintage cartoon, The Discussion.
These figures probably were caricatures
though the personages have long since
been forgotten..
Although by the mid-1800s, caricatures (and associated cartoons) had been around for centuries, it was only then that they began to creep into politics. In 1831, Honore Daumier was arrested and held briefly for one of his caricature/cartoons titled Gargantua featuring French King Louis Philippe. Daumier subsequently went into the painting business, though continuing to do cartoons lampooning French society (especially lawyers). It's uncertain as to whether they featured identifiable caricatures. Which brings up a unique factor in the art of caricature--they have a shelf life. Once the subject has faded from fame, the same is true of their caricature. A caricature of King Kong's first love, screen actress, Fay Wray, would have been quite popular in the 1920s, but by now, no one recalls what she, or her caricature looked like. Nor do they care.

Petit Pantheon Theatral, 1860, Claude Monet
My Butterfly, Jules Didier,
his friend and fellow
artist by Claude Monet
About the same as Daumier was skillfully skirting skirmishes with the king, an even more famous French artist was cutting his teeth doing caricatures. Though still a teenager, Claude Monet's first artistic efforts were caricatures, patrons of his father's Le Havre stationery shop. Of course they're totally anonymous today. Monet told of the demand for his caricatures reaching the point that he took to actually selling them. His caricature of his friend, Jules Didier (right) only hints at his talent. In fact, it was through seeing Monet's
Jules Didier
caricatures displayed in a stores window that the Barbizon painter, Eugene Boudin, recognizing the boy's talent, said to him, "Why don't you paint?' Painting has never been the same since. As for Monet's assessment of his own talent, he claimed that, had he continued doing caricatures, he would have soon become a millionaire.
Thomas Nast's Boss Tweed, 1870s.

During the 19th century, American artists such as Thomas Nast embraced caricatures not so much as portraits (as in Monet's case) but as tools in making their political cartoons more pointed. By this time artist seldom went to jail for making fun of the political powers that be (were?). Nast's caricatures and battle with New York's William M. (Boss) Tweed helped send the powerful but corrupt politician to the Ludlow Street Jail where he died in 1878.

Al Hirschfield's Four Great Comedians.
Can you identify them, or has it been too long since they made us laugh.
The caricatures of another American artist, the great Al Hirschfield, became so highly identified with show business success, there was no need for a "day job" painting pictures of jailing miscreant politicians. From the early 1940s until his death in 2003, Hirschfield (top) not only popularized the modern day caricature, but defined it in the portrait tradition begun by Monet nearly a hundred years before. Whether working in black and white or in color, in a cartoon style or a portrait style, Al Hirschfield is the one artist every caricaturist and would-be caricaturist looks up to as their model. Nonetheless, his legend is safe. No artist today comes even close to his talent and fame.

No, it's not a Hirschfield.  Even Picasso tried his hand at caricature in the
1920s drawing of composer Igor Stravinsky.


No comments:

Post a Comment