History of Caricature
Some of the very earliest caricatures were undertaken by the great Leonardo da Vinci who actively sought people with deformities to use as models. A caricature is made to project more of the person than can be seen in a traditional portrait. One of the next great practitioners was Gian Lorenzo Bernini who was popular amongst the papal court of Rome. The word itself is derived from the Italian “caricare” which means “to load”, meaning that the artist puts into his work as much meaning as possible beyond the pure image.
Caricatures however reached a zenith during the late eighteenth century in Britain with great artists like William Hogarth (1697-1764), James Gillray (1757-1811), Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) and George Cruickshank (1853-1904). It was the explosion of literacy in the early Victorian period which set the scene for a subtle change from the purely visual caricature to one complimented by literary wit. There was a corresponding huge expansion of newspapers, journals and periodicals. Savory states that in 1859 alone one thousand five hundred new periodicals were introduced in London! This growth was fuelled further by the National Education Act of 1870. Another great influence of the resurgence of caricature under ‘Vanity Fair’ was the increasing availability of photography. This encouraged a visual image which could record features in a way that a camera could not.
‘The World’ was a weekly paper founded by Edmund Hodgson Yates (1831-94) and E. C. Grenville Murray (1824-81). First issued in July 1874, within six months Yates bought Murray out and took control. Right from the beginning the idea had been to issue caricatures. Leslie Ward (1851-1922) was approached but on the advice of Ward’s father who wanted him to pursue more serious portraiture, showed little interest. Yates dropped the idea entirely. It was a society paper and counted amongst its contributors George Bernard Shaw, James Whistler and Oscar Wilde. Following his death in 1894 two of his sons continued it. In 1900 they flirted with caricatures, publishing a series of eight by Max Beerbohm as a Christmas supplement. In 1905 Alfred Harmsworth acquired the paper for £14,000. A further Christmas number was published in 1909, a double page by ‘Spy’, the famous artists Leslie Ward. A month later a regular series were issued. A total of 68 were published through April 2011. ‘Spy’ was the major contributing artist but others included ‘SEM’ George Goursat and ‘EMU’. It met with indifferent success and no doubt encouraged by the events of the First World War finally folded in 1920. Dictionary of National Biography; Feaver (1981) p. 128; Lambourne (1983) pp. 34-5; Ward, Leslie. (1915). Forty Years of “Spy”.