Caricature Art History

Caricature As An Art Form

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Famous New Orleans musician and composer, the late Alan Toussaint. Caricature by Keith Van Douglas

Keith Van Douglas developed a talent as a caricaturist at a very young age.

Over Keith’s lengthy and prolific career as a caricaturist Keith has composed caricature portraits of at least 300,000 individuals.

Here is a brief history of the origin of caricatures as an art form.

The word caricature is derived from two Italian words which are carico and caricare that translate in English ‘to load’ or most commonly ‘to exaggerate’.

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New Orleans Super Bowl winning Quarterback Drew Brees,. Caricature by Keith Van Douglas.

During the 1590’s, Italian brothers Annibale Carracci  and his brother Agostino assigned both of these two words to a series of sketches whose portraits were exaggerated.   The descriptions assigned to these portraits indicated that these images were designed to be humorous and were deliberately intended to mock the Carracci brothers theories of art composition which both brothers taught at the Academy of Art in Bologna, Italy.

In the present day, one might ponder why it took so long for caricature to be recognized as a form of art.   However, one should remember that the goal of artists for hundreds of years was to create perfectly rendered and natural representational art.

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Group Caricature Portrait by Keith Van Douglas

By and large, when the High Renaissance   rolled around (c. 1490-1530) perfectly rendered, natural representational art was achieved.  After large numbers of High Renaissance artists mastered the ability to produce a ‘perfect likeness’ could they then start to disassemble the ‘perfect likeness’ artwork they created.

The disassembling of ‘perfect likeness’ artwork evolved over hundreds of years until a completely different concept of art was developed which is called abstract art.

The origin of abstract is best depicted in the form of Mondriarn’s concretegeometric art.

Caricature continued to be a predominantly Italian form of art for the next hundred years even though in Northern Europe the Elder Pieter Brugel (c.1525-1569)  as well as Bruegel’s contemporaries were also composing human portraits which consisted of exaggerated likenesses.

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Oysters Yum Yum Caricature by Keith Van Douglas

The Italian master sculptor, Bernini (1598-1680)  composed amusing portraits that mocked both his friends as well as himself.  Bernini’s writings indicate that a character’s likeness could be captured with just a ‘few pen strokes’.

A Rococo painter, Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674-1755) made an excellent living by composing amusing art that featured tourists that were visiting Italy.

Italian caricatures had arrived in London by the mid-1700’s which aroused the curiosity of Arthur Pond Publishing.   Pond printed and published a series of drawing by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), Carlo Maratti (1625–1713) and Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674-1755).  All of these publications by Pond were quite well received by the public.  Beginning in the 18th century, satirical caricatures became the rage in England, France, and the United States.

Punch magazine was created in the 1820’s and rapidly became the most popular satirical magazine in the country.

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Political Cartoon by Keith Van Douglas

During the period dating 1840-1865 Punch magazine is also credited – with causing the word “cartoon” to replace the word “caricature”, in particular as regards to politicians and political imagery.

Donald Trump Political Caricature by Keith Van Douglas

The caricature genre was dominated in France during the 19th century the incomparable Honore Daurnier  (1809-1879) who became famous for his satirical political cartoons published in the weekly anti-monarchist publication, La Caricature.  One of Daumier’s cartoons landed Daumier in jail for criticizing King Louis Philippe.  In fact, in 1835, the French Government actually banned all types of art deemed to be seditious in nature…most notably political caricatures which caused Daumier to move on to cartoons that depicted social situations.  The key to Daumier’s great success as a satirist, was Daumier’s ability to associate a subject’s mental state to physical defect.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin Political Caricature by Keith Van Douglas

The advent of railroad service in the mid-19th century enabled magazines to be rapidly and widely distributed to an ever increasing audience.  With a single stroke of the pen, a politician’s image could be utterly destroyed.  That tradition continues to this very day.  A skilled caricaturist such as Keith Van Douglas will draw upon the natural characteristics of a subject.  As an example, if the person has a prominent nose, the nose will be exaggerated.  Or, perhaps the subject will have a peculiar hair style, mannerism, or temperament which will be exploited by the caricaturist.

Caricature art was very evident at the turn of the 20th century.

In the years following the First World War, accompanied by the massive increase in newspapers and other periodicals, the caricature genre underwent a renaissance in the United States.  Caricatures were rewarded with popularity that rivaled photographs. A new wave of young draftsmen like Al Hirschfeld and Miguel Covarrubias demonstrated that caricatures could be amusing, colorful, and graceful – not merely acerbic visual comments placed on the local newspapers editorial page.

Donald Trump Political Humor Caricature by Keith Van Douglas

In England, Punch magazine continued the caricaturist tradition of political cartoon art and caricature during the period of 1950-1992.

The political temperature escalated again before and again after the advent of television.  World leaders and regional political figures continue to be satirized and military leaders continue to be lampooned.

Contemporary caricaturists such as Keith Van Douglas have maintained the centuries old traditional of producing compelling caricature artwork of every description.

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Donald Trump Political Humor Caricature by Keith Van Douglas

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