By DONNA URSCHEL
The exhibition "Monstrous Craws & Character Flaws: Masterpieces of Cartoon and Caricature at the Library of Congress" is like a good cartoon: simple, direct and powerful.
Featuring 18 original works by historical masters such as Thomas Nast and Honoré Daumier, as well as works by modern artists such as Garry Trudeau, Bill Mauldin, Oliver Harrington, Paul Szep and Al Hirschfeld, the exhibition illustrates succinctly the merit of cartoons as important works of art and vehicles for social and political commentary. The cartoons engender a host of emotions, from anger and sadness to humor and tenderness.
The exhibition, the inaugural display in the new Caroline and Erwin Swann Gallery of Caricature and Cartoon, also highlights the strength and diversity of the Library's holdings of original cartoon art.
"Few people are aware that the Library of Congress is a major repository and a major resource of these works of art," said Sara Duke, a curatorial project assistant in the Prints and Photographs Division, who, along with Harry Katz, curator of Popular and Applied Graphic Art, served as curators of the exhibition.
"Monstrous Craws & Character Flaws" will be open to the public free of charge from Feb. 25 to July 6 in the Swann Gallery, a new exhibition space in the Jefferson Building devoted to the art of caricature and cartoon.
The exhibition takes its title from James Gillray's 1787 hand-colored etching Monstrous Craws at a New Coalition Feast, which lampoons King George III and his family.
The cartoon features the King sitting around a table with his wife, Queen Charlotte, and their son, the Prince of Wales (later King George IV), gorging themselves on the national treasury. The words "monstrous craws" refer to the large green goiters, representing money bags, hanging from their necks. The image apparently was inspired by circus freaks who received wide attention in London at the time.
Ms. Duke says the etching's watercolors remain fresh and vibrant because the image has rarely been exhibited.
James Gillray was one of the foremost British satirists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He was "among the most popular, prolific, revered and reviled print satirists of the golden age of English caricature," according to Ms. Duke.
Ironically, this original comes from a group of satires collected by King George IV himself, who, along with his father, George III, shared a passion for satires and acquired contemporary works of the time, as well as those from earlier periods.
Though the royals were appreciative of good wit, there was a limit. On occasion, when confronted by a particularly offensive caricature of themselves, they attempted to suppress distribution of the cartoon by purchasing the entire edition and the plate from which it was printed.
In 1921, the Library of Congress purchased 10,000 British satires, dating from 1780 to 1830, from the royal family, who kept them in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle.
These 10,000 satires represent the "crown jewel" in the Library's political cartoon collections and the nucleus of the Library's British satire holdings, which are among the finest outside Great Britain. They form a collection of great research value and historical interest not only for the breadth and quality of the impressions but also for their close association with the British royal family.
Among the 17 other works is Rue Transnonain, le 15 avril, 1834 by Honoré Daumier, acclaimed for his merciless caricatures of kings, presidents and others in power who preyed on the powerless in 19th century France. In this work, Daumier criticizes the killing of innocents by King Louis Philippe's troops during a worker's uprising in Lyons in spring 1834. It is considered one of Daumier's greatest political works.
Miguel Covarrubias, a famous "Vanity Fair" caricaturist in the 1920s and '30s, is represented with Impossible Interviews -- No. 18: Herr Adolf Hitler and Huey S. "Hooey" Long versus Josef Stalin and Benito Mussolini (1933).
An unforgettable cartoon on display is Paul Szep's Vietnam Specters (ca. 1965-69), an image of President Lyndon B. Johnson haunted by the ghosts of dead American soldiers. Szep is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.
From another two-time Pulitzer winner, Bill Mauldin, is the poignant Didn't We Meet at Cassino? (ca. 1944), which depicts a U.S. soldier asking this question of an enemy soldier he's about to kill during the World War II Italian Campaign.
Also included is the Charles Dana Gibson cartoon The Weaker Sex (1903), in which Gibson parodies his own creations, the winsome, glamorous and passive "Gibson Girls". In this cartoon, the Gibson Girls are assertive giants toying with a minuscule male under a magnifying glass.
Another great American cartoonist represented is Arthur Burdett Frost (1851-1928), best known for affectionate, humorous portraits of rural characters, both human and animal. His work appeared in such popular periodicals as Harper's Monthly, Life, Collier's, Puck, Scribner's and Harper's Weekly. The Frost cartoon is called He Made Some Hootch and Tried It on the Dog, from 1921.
One can almost hear the swing music playing in Al Hirschfeld's The Stage Door Canteen Reopens (1944), an exuberant evocation of night life in New York City during World War II. Mr. Hirschfeld includes himself in a self-portrait as a bearded sailor to the right of the image with his back to the viewer.
Oliver Harrington, one of the first African Americans to receive international recognition as a cartoonist, is represented with an insightful and tender cartoon of two young black children talking to each other while fishing. It is called Dark Laughter: "The Teacher Says That Everyone Can Git to Be President. Then How Come the Whole Class Falls Out Laughin' When I Tell 'Em That's My Dream?".
A Thomas Nast cartoon from 1871 and its woodblock are both on display. A Group of Vultures Waiting for the Storm to "Blow Over." -- "Let Us Prey," was published in Harper's Weekly on Sept. 23, 1871. The woodblock was a gift to the Library from J. P. Morgan in 1919.
Nast, the dominant political cartoonist in America during the second half of the 19th century, exposed the corrupt "Tweed Ring" of New York City's Tammany Hall and contributed to the group's ultimate indictment. Nast's efforts became a landmark in the history of journalistic crusades against corruption in government.
In a biting 1974 cartoon by Edward Sorel, President Richard Nixon is depicted as a tyrannical autocrat, a Louis XIV lookalike, Milhous I: Lord of San Clemente, Duke of Key Biscayne, Captain of Watergate. The political figure-as-corrupt-monarch motif was first used in America by cartoonist William Charles. His ca. 1812-13 work, Josiah the First, is on display next to Sorel's.
The exhibition also features: George Luks, "That Man Clay Was an Ass. It's Better to Be President Than to Be Right." 1899; Garry Trudeau, a strip from Doonesbury, 1971; John Held, The Girl Who Gave Him the Cold Shoulder, 1923; Peggy Bacon, The Quest of Beauty, ca. 1936- 41; and Rose O'Neill, Fortune, 1903.
The Swann Gallery is named after New York advertising executive Erwin Swann (1906-1973), who assembled an extraordinarily diverse collection of nearly 2,000 works of cartoon art representing 400 artists and spanning two centuries.
Mr. Swann developed the collection specifically to promote the preservation and connoisseurship of original cartoon and illustration drawings, which he believed should be studied as fine art drawings.
The Swann Collection came to the Library in 1974, with a fund to support its preservation and development. The fund, created in the memory of Mr. Swann and his wife, Caroline, also established the gallery.
The gallery's foyer displays facsimiles of works drawn from the Swann Collection and related holdings preserved within the Prints and Photographs Division.
Ms. Urschel is a Washington free-lance writer.
"Monstrous Craws & Character Flaws: Masterpieces of Cartoon and Caricature at the Library of Congress" will be on view Feb. 25 through July 6, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, in the Swann Gallery of the Jefferson Building, 10 First Street S.E.