By Mark Sardella
Often seen today in political cartoons, caricatures are drawings that emphasize a subject’s defining traits. Facial features like ears and noses are often exaggerated in these drawings, but certain clothing choices like a corseted waist or perfectly polished shoes might be exaggerated by an artist as well. The idiosyncrasies highlighted by the artist might help a viewer understand a subject’s class, age, personality or other group affiliations more clearly.
Even though caricaturing is not considered high art today, it is still a valuable form nonetheless. Baudelaire argues in “The Painter of Modern Life: An Artist, Man of the World, Man of the Crowds, and Child” that the speed and ease of a sketch can capture the here and now, making it a perfect art form for the modern age.
A good artist has an eye for subtlety, but those subtleties might not always be adequately captured by photographic technology. When an artist chooses to exaggerate subtleties in a caricature, those exaggerations become valuable cultural artifacts that allow future viewers to dive into a decade, year, or moment in history.
In the context of the 1890s, Max Beerbohm’s work is particularly significant. He has drawn the Rossettis, Aubrey Beardsley, Henry James, and others. Being caricatured was both flattering and humbling, since one had to be both important enough to be drawn, but thick-skinned enough to accept being satirized.
References and Further Reading:
Baudelaire, Charles. “The Painter of Modern Life: An Artist, Man of the World, Man of the Crowds, and Child.” 1863. The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays. Translated and edited by Jonathan Mayne. 2nd ed., Phaidon, 1995, Pp. 5-15. Print. (Retrieved from LM8939 Winter 2017 Course Kit by Dr. Lorraine Janzen Kooistra)
Flood, Catherine. Style and Satire: Fashion in Print, 1777-1927. V&A Publishing, 2014.
Hall, John N. Max Beerbohm Caricatures. Yale University Press, 1997.
Scott, Rebekah. “‘Marmoreal darling of the Few’: Henry James, Max Beerbohm, and the Spirit of Caricature.” Literary Imagination, vol. 15, no. 1, 2013, pp. 124-144.