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Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman

Caricature and Social Satire

When people live together in societies, visual caricature and satire in some form are certain to arise, but historically their wide distribution in pictorial form has been limited. From the eighteenth century onward, however, the changing political, social, and technological landscape in Europe meant that satirists now had both the means to mass-produce their work and the audience to consume it. In the Herman Collection, works by some of the most important names in caricature and social commentary illustrate the preoccupations of the genre. Not all of the drawings in this section were studies for published works, but all explore topics popular with the viewing public.

These works tend to fall into two distinct but related groups: those that comment on society and its follies and those reacting to the politics of the day. In the former category, marriage and relationships between men and women were as ripe for humor and mockery then as they are today. Paul Gavarni’s A Jealous Suspicion, for example, pokes fun at the sexual indiscretions of bourgeois women: a husband brandishes a gun, outraged by his unseen wife’s presumed infidelity, but his disheveled appearance shows how ineffective he is—in his nightshirt, he is literally no longer "wearing the pants" in the family. Other works, such as Allegory on Human Vanity and A Swarm of English Bees, mock the behavior of all sorts of people as they attempt to climb the social ladder. Some artists in the group offer a more benevolent view of society; Pier Leone Ghezzi, for example, was known for gentle spoofs of the Roman bourgeoisie patronized by the bourgeoisie themselves. In the realm of politics, however, caricature was often more biting and frequently singled out individuals, rather than types, for criticism of their actions. These artists, such as Honoré Daumier and James Gillray, were the forerunners of the political cartoonists we are familiar with today, like Garry Trudeau, creator of the long-running Doonesbury.

Artists, Titles, and Accession Numbers

J. D. Croome, A Christmas Carol (recto); The Family Picture (verso), 2006.11.14 >

George Cruikshank, A Swarm of English Bees, 2007.15.27 >

Honoré Daumier, The Lawyer and the Defendant, 2007.15.28 >

Paul Gavarni, A Jealous Suspicion (Un Soupçon Jaloux), 2007.15.37 >

Pier Leone Ghezzi, Caricature of a Lady with a Fan, 2007.15.39 >

James Gillray, A Lecture on the Beauties of Cropping, Or—Whigs Transformed into Blocks, 2006.11.22 >

Giuseppe Maria Mitelli or His Workshop, The Allegory of Fortune (Le Vicende del Mondo), 2007.15.8 >

Henry Bonaventure Monnier, Joseph Prudhomme Standing, 2007.15.58 >

Thomas Rowlandson, The Wax Model Seller, 2006.11.51 >

Johann Eleazar Schenau, The Marriage Contract, 2006.11.66 >

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