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Caroline and Erwin Swann Foundation for Caricature and Cartoon

Abstracts for Caricature and Cartoon in Twentieth-Century America

A Joint Conference of the Library of Congress and The National Portrait Gallery

Friday, May 15, 1998, 10:00 - 5:00 pm, The National Portrait Gallery
8th & F Streets, NW, Washington, DC

The Celebrity Caricature Vogue: Wendy Wick Reaves, Curator of Prints and Drawings, National Portrait Gallery

At the height of its vogue between the two World Wars, caricature portraits of the famous permeated New York City, captivating everyone from Alfred Stieglitz's avant-garde art circle to the readers of the daily newspaper. Changing trends in art, humor, publishing, and communications influenced a new generation of caricaturists, whose original drawings have now come to light. Artists such as Marius de Zayas and Miguel Covarrubias brought a Mexican potency to this irreverent genre of American art which also borrowed from English and French precedents. Art critics recognized the affinity of these drawings to other forms of modern portraiture. Distincly different from political cartoons, they focused on the fashionably famous, serving as emblems of the emerging urban culture.

Josephine Baker, 1935 For a larger image, click on the picture.

Paolo Garretto (1903-1989), Josephine Baker, 1935. Collage with hand-painted and air-brushed watercolor gouache, crayon, color pencil, wood veneer and feathers on paper. Published in Vanity Fair, February 1936. Collection of the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC.

In the 1920s, caricature flourished in such "smart" magazines as The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. Masters of bold pen and ink lines--Al Hirschfeld and William Auerbach-Levy, for example--were joined in the 1930s by brilliant colorists. Caricature in watercolor or bright pastels by Covarrubias, Paolo Garretto, and Will Cotton adorned the covers of magazines and the walls of art galleries. Reflecting Art Deco styles, caricature also crossed into the realms of fashion and advertising. Even Hollywood joined the trend as animation studios produced cartoons featuring film world celebrities cavorting with beloved "toon" figures. Celebrity caricature peaked in the interwar period, evolving after World War II into different forms and specialized niches. But this little known genre of portraiture resonated with a jazz age generation, grappling with the demands of a new, mass media-based celebrity culture.

"A Gentle, If Sometimes Mordant Irony": The Life and Times of Al Frueh: Thomas P. Bruhn, William Benton Museum, University of Connecticut, Storrs

Al Frueh (1880-1968) filled a lifetime sketching the plays, the actors, and the actresses of the 20th century American stage. His work matured in the early decades of the century when the public had an intense interest in the theater, large circulation newspapers featured it, and photographically illustrated magazines appeared to chronicle it. The subjects of Frueh's caricature-sketches reflect the changing form of the theater from his early years when the stage was the popular burlesques of Weber and Fields and the Shakespeare of E. H. Sothern to the 30s and 40s when it turned "legitimate" and vaudeville and movies became the popular entertainment of choice. As icons his caricatures are about personality and style - in his early years of the players', in his later often of the play's. These public personalities and his caricatures are a mirror to each other and offer the subject this talk will explore.

Harry Lauder, ca. 1910-1912 For a larger image, click on the picture.

Al Frueh (1880-1968), Harry Lauder, ca. 1910-1912. Ink, gouache and watercolor on board. Published in New York World Magazine, 1913. Gift of the children of Al Frueh, Collection of the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC.

Ralph Barton's Affectionate Insults: A Life in Caricature: Bruce Kellner, Author and Professor Emeritus of English, Millersville University, Millersville, Pennsylvania

During the decade of the Twenties, Ralph Barton was arguably the best known and inarguably the highest paid cartoonist and caricaturist in America. He aspired to be a serious painter, but popularity got in the way. So did too much easy money, four failed marriages, the influence of lunatic-fringe religion in his childhood, an emotional satirist in his adulthood, and a bi-polar manic-depressive personality. He killed himself in 1931, just before his fortieth birthday, but during the preceding decade he caricatured the luminaries of the Jazz Age, for The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Judge, Life, and Puck. No other illustrator was more widely imitated, and none was so quickly forgotten. In a good week he could make $1,500 (you can multiply that by nine or ten for today's rate of exchanged and buying power) but a couple of years after his early death his caricature of George Gershwin sold for $5.

Drawing of Ernest Hemingway For a larger image, click on the picture.

Ralph Barton (1891-1931), Ernest Hemingway. Drawing. Published in Vanity Fair. Courtesy of Diana Barton Franz.

Barton began by caricaturing one friend--Thomas Hart Benton--and ended with another--Charlie Chaplin. In between, he managed to hit just about everybody, from Matisse and Picasso to Lillian Gish, and from Sigmund Freud to Amiee Semple McPherson. Perhaps he was best known for his group caricatures: an intermission drop curtain for the Broadway production of Chauve Souris, with 140 theater luminaries; a birthday party for Life magazine, with 112 of its contributors; and evening at the Coconut Grove in Hollywood, with 128 movie stars. Also, he turned out a remarkable body of imaginative drawings and illustrations connected with World War One as well as the Prohibition Era that made the Twenties roar.

Anything Goes: Caricature Since the 1960s: Edward Sorel, Author and Caricaturist

Caricature is by its very nature an impolite art, and in certain hands a subversive one as well. During World War II it seemed downright unpatriotic to ridicule our own political leaders, and the world of show business, which until then had inspired America's "Golden Age of Caricature," suddenly seemed trivial when compared to the global conflict. Aside from Arthur Szyk's renderings of the Axis gang, there was not much going on in the field.

Spiro Agnew in a parody of a World War I poster, 1973. For a larger image, click on the picture.

Edward Sorel, Spiro Agnew in a parody of a World War I poster, 1973. Drawing. Published in Harper's. Courtesy of Edward Sorel.

In spite of some lovely (but small) examples in The New Yorker by William Auerbach Levy, Alfred Frueh, and Aaron Birnbaum, and by Al Hirschfeld in The New York Times, caricature remained a languishing art until the mid-1960s. Then, thanks to Vietnam, the proliferation of news magazines, and the explosion of David Levine's caricatures in The New York Review of Books and Esquire, caricature began to make a comeback. The current crop of impolite portraits admittedly has fewer masters than America had in the 1920s (Miguel Covarrubias, Ralph Barton, Will Cotton, Garretto, Auerbach-Levy, Boardman Robinson, Frueh). Still, they approach both politics and show business with an irreverence not seen in this country since the turn of the century. Furthermore, in Levine, Robert Grossman, Philip Burke, Barry Blitt, Pat Oliphant, and I like to think, myself, there is such variety of style, technique, and approach that one might suspect a second "Golden Age" to be in the offing.

Saturday, May 16, 1998, 9:30 am - 4:30 pm, Mumford Room, Library of Congress
Madison Building, 101 Independence Avenue, SE, Washington, DC

With Crayon and Ink: The Masses and the Revolution in Cartooning: Sara W. Duke, Curatorial Project Assistant for Caricature and Cartoon, Library of Congress

Prior to World War I American editorial cartooning underwent a major transformation as both artists and publishers experimented with new techniques for presenting art. New York was at the center of this revolution with the 1913 Armory Show and 1915 Salon of Humorists that challenged people's taste in art. In addition, several newspaper publishers found themselves embroiled in a media war that resulted in some of the best cartoonists in the nation coming to New York to work. The United States as a whole experienced political upheaval prior to World War I, as the Socialist Party attracted thousands of voters in the 1912 election. Changes in aesthetic and political sensibility were conjoined in The Masses, a short-lived, but nevertheless seminal publication.

Pittsburgh, 1916. For a larger image, click on the picture.

Robert Minor (1884-1952), Pittsburgh, 1916. Lithographic crayon and india ink. Published in The Masses, 8 (August 1916). Ben and Beatrice Goldstein Foundation Collection, Collection of the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZC4-4903 (color film copy transparency) LC-USZ62-111306 (b&w film copy neg.)

The Masses attracted artists and writers who wanted to express their opinion without the confines of editorial review. Under John Sloan, art editor from 1912 to 1914, the periodical published images of the working class in their rare hours of leisure or lampooned the wealthy for not working. In addition, senior cartoonist Art Young emphasized the role of ideas and satire in art. When Sloan defected for good in 1916, the cartoons that The Masses published became pointed--challenging American attitudes toward World War I, workers, and the Russian Revolution. Most importantly, Boardman Robinson and Robert Minor joined the editorial board--two of the highest paid and talented editorial cartoonists at the time. Their mixture of political idealism and artistic ability affected a generation of cartoonists, including fellow contributor Kenneth Russell Chamberlain, Rollin Kirby, and Jacob Burck. The crayon and ink cartoons of The Masses were published concurrently with those of a rising generation of editorial cartoonists who took advantage of the new technology to experiment with a variety of media themselves. This paper will address the melding of politics, art, and technology prior to World War I and its effect on postwar cartooning.

Ollie Harrington: Cartoonist in Exile at Home and Abroad: Christine McKay and Nashormeh Lindo, Independent Scholars

In writings about Harlem artists of the 1930s and 1940s, the names Jacob Lawrence, Aaron Douglas, Romare Bearden, and Charles Alston come readily to mind, but the name Oliver Harrington almost never appears. Yet by 1940, Harrington had been an instructor with the WPA Federal Art Project and was one of few African-American graduates of the Yale University School of the Fine Arts. He was featured in an article about the school in Life magazine, and his comic drawings were seen by more than 100,000 people weekly in the Pittsburgh Courier. By 1947, he had served as one of only 27 accredited black war correspondents, was public relations director for the NAACP, had appeared on the front page of The New York Times confronting Attorney General Tom Clark over the government's lack of proscecution of lynchers, and his cartoons were seen by more than 300,000 people.

General Blotchit, take your tanks and feint at Lynchville,</CITE> Reproduction of drawing. For a larger image, click on the picture.

Ollie Harrington (1912-1995), General Blotchit, take your tanks and feint at Lynchville, Reproduction of drawing. Published in Bootsie and others, a selection of cartoons by Ollie Harrington, 1958.

When Harrington died in 1995 at age 83, after residing in Europe for more than forty years, there had begun a resurgence of interest in his work resulting in two books of essays and cartoons and several exhibits. However, he was still known primarily as a member of the expatriate community in Paris in the 1950s and close friend of Richard Wright and Chester Himes. A skilled raconteur, Harrington often invented details about his political and personal life. This paper will attempt to correct a number of misconceptions about Harrington and consider his life and art in the context of the racism and Cold War politics of mid-twentieth century America.

Mauldin Dons His Mufti: Frederick S. Voss, Historian-Curator, National Portrait Gallery

In mid-1945, Bill Mauldin was the most famous cartoonist in America, and maybe the most beloved to boot. Through much of World War II, this young army sergeant had regaled both soldiers and civilians with his pictorial commentaries on the pompousness of officers and the hapless lot of the mud-spattered enlisted man in the front lines. One of his cartoons had won a Pulitzer Prize and in addition to appearing regularly in the army newspaper Stars and Stripes, his work had in the past year and a half or so been widely syndicated in newspapers back home. Now the war was drawing to a close, and Mauldin was, along with millions of other G.I.'s, about to return to civilian life. In contrast to other soldiers coming home, one would expect the shift into mufti to be an easy one for Mauldin to make. After all, he was already famous, his fame had given him good connections, and his cartoonist's skills were eminently saleable.

There's always politics, sir--or, a South American revolution... For a larger image, click on the picture.

Bill Mauldin (born 1921), "There's always politics, sir--or, a South American revolution..." 1945. Ink drawing. Published by United Feature Syndicate. Gift of Bill Mauldin, Collections of the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

In fact, Mauldin's transition from army to civilian cartooning was not easy at all, and the main focus of "Mauldin Dons His Mufti" are the woes he experienced in adjusting to an out-of-uniform career. Some of his setbacks stemmed from the limitations of his own experience. Others, however, were the result of the post-war environment and one of the paper's primary concerns will be the social and political climate that both inspired his commentaries and brought his cartooning career to a very low ebb, indeed, by the late 1940s.

Oliphant's Anthem: Pat Oliphant, Syndicated Cartoonist

Oliphant will give a one-hour presentation and informal talk accompanied by quick sketches and running commentary. Similar presentations were recently broadcast over live television before European audiences to accompany the exhibition Oliphant: The New World Order in Drawings and Sculpture, 1983-1993 in Budapest and Prague. Here, the talk and draw presentation accompanies the Library of Congress exhibition, Oliphant's Anthem which is open to the public during the conference.

Library of Congress Interior, 1997.  Watercolor, ink and graphite. For a larger image, click on the picture.

Pat Oliphant (born 1935), Library of Congress Interior, 1997. Watercolor, ink and graphite. Collection of the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Courtesy of Pat Oliphant.

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