The Rise of Caricature

'good caricature, like every work of art, is more true to life than reality itself.' - Annibale Carracci

Examples of caricature first arrived in England from Italy in the early eighteenth century. Caricature was taken up by the wealthy elite as a private pastime. They sketched each other, making subtle exaggerations and gently poking fun. At first, caricature was a shared amusement between friends.

When talented amateurs began to publish drawings in the late 1750s, caricature began to reach a wider audience. The active participation of both the aristocracy and the rich ensured lasting success for caricature. It quickly became an integral part of political and public life, as it still is today.

The popularity of caricature was promoted, in the eighteenth-century, by the interest in physiognomy ­ the practise of interpreting character from facial features. Early in the century, people were familiar with the idea of being able to 'read' a person's character by the way they looked. In 1711 the popular periodical The Spectator had concluded that 'we may be better known by our looks than by our words'. Later in the century, Johann Caspar Lavater's book Essays in Physiognomy was published in England. It advanced the theory that physical features reflect the mind and soul. The exaggeration and distortion of caricature played upon this visual language, suggesting the faults and virtues of their subjects.

William Pulteney had a turbulent political career as a member of the Whig political party. This print was probably produced on the occasion of Pulteney's resignation from the Government following an internal dispute. Pulteney was also wealthy London landowner, who inherited a large part of Soho and Piccadilly.

The printmaker John Simon published his own prints, many after portraits by Sir Godfrey Kneller.

Pulteney is shown in the act of removing his polite mask to reveal his true face underneath - a fiendish sneer. Pulteney had formed a breakaway party called the Patriot Whigs, but he was widely criticised for refusing to accept the office of Prime Minister. The artist has parodied respectful portrait prints of public figures like Pulteney ­ even employing the same mezzotint technique.

Satirical prints targeting the government and powerful individuals were widely available by the eighteenth century. They were usually anonymous, and reliant on symbols and texts to convey their messages. This print was created at a time when caricature was only practised by a few amateurs. It presents an evil looking 'type' rather than actually distorting Pulteney's features. Nevertheless, it is an important precedent for later caricatures, demonstrating a popular interest in physiognomy, and the ability of satire to 'unmask'.

This etching was a subscription ticket for Hogarth's print series Marriage a la Mode; a social satire published in six instalments. Hogarth despised caricature, which was in his opinion an empty activity. He used the subscription ticket to attack the popularity of caricatures, which had been published in England a few years before.

On the lower band, Hogarth contrasted a limited selection of 'caricatures' (including Ghezzi's caricature of Thomas Bentley, see showcase), with a large section filled with 'characters', which had the potential for infinite variety and complexity. Hogarth refers the viewer to the preface of Henry Fielding's novel Joseph Andrews, in which Fielding praised Hogarth's ability to create 'characters' that ­ unlike caricatures ­ 'appear to think'.

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