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Savage Ink: Ten political cartoons from 300 years of caricature

As The People’s History Museum charts the progress of political cartoons in its exhibition Savage Ink, here’s ten tasters celebrating three centuries of caricature

Nat Attack!

a cartoon with Theresa May being repeatedly stung by bees carrying Scottish flags

Nat Attack! Lorna Miller, 2017. Courtesy of the artist www.lornamiller.com

Lorna Miller is a Scottish comic book artist, colourist and illustrator with roots in the DIY comic and zine scene who turned to political cartooning in 2014. She has since illustrated Rotten Boroughs in Private Eye and her cartoons have been published by The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom UK and the Morning Star. She was nominated for Political Cartoonist of the Year 2015 and 2016.

Here Prime Minister Theresa May is attacked by insects bearing the Scottish flag – representing the second Scottish independence referendum proposed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon after the Brexit vote.

Scum Uppermost!

a complex cartoon showing a devil figure representing different elements of the people

Universal Suffrage or the Scum Uppermost!!!! George Cruikshank, 1819

Published just one month before the Peterloo Massacre of August 1819, this print by George Cruikshank shows popular radical reform represented as a many headed monster. It wears the French cap of liberty on its dragon’s tail and spits fire from its fearsome heads. The print was designed to warn people of the fatal consequences the calls for political reform might have on British culture and values.

It also reveals Cruikshank to be a flipp-flopper or at best a pen for hire who would happily vacillate between reform and conservatism. After Peterloo he drew one of the most famous and damning anti-establishment cartoons of the age.

Hung, Drawn and Caricatured

Hung, Drawn and Caricatured with apologies to WM Hogarth I+G Cruikshank, Peter Fluck, James Gillray + Richard Newton. Steve Bell 2000

This painting was commissioned from Steve Bell for the Hung, Drawn and Caricatured exhibition at the People’s History Museum in 2000. One of Britain’s most famous political cartoonists, Bell, best known for the daily strip ‘If’ and his political cartoons for the Guardian, pays tribute to some of the most iconic images from history of satirical cartoons – from Hogarth to his own John Major in his underpants, series.

Before Spitting Image

a cartoon of womam on a building ledge with two people staring out of the window

No It’s Nothing To Do With Share Prices – She Keeps Mumbling, ‘N.E.C.’ Peter Fluck, 1981

Peter Fluck is perhaps best known as one half of Luck and Flaw (with Roger Law), who were the creators of the satirical TV puppet show Spitting Image. Prior to exploring the boundless satirical possibilities of rubber and latex he was a prolific cartoonist. This cartoon depicts former Labour MP Shirley Williams on a ledge, with fellow members of the SDP-Liberal Alliance, David Steel and David Owen in the window.

The caption alludes to both the purported suicide of some stock brokers after a market crash and Williams’ clashes with the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) which led to the formation of the breakaway Social Democratic Party earlier that year.

Hogarth vs John Wilkes

an etching of man sat on a chair with a libery cap and horns protruding from his Georgian style wig

John Wilkes Esqr Drawn from the Life And Etched in Aquafortis, William Hogarth, 1763

The most significant and popular artist of his generation William Hogarth’s cartoons are so pervasive that even today, political or societal satire – whatever its medium – is often referred to as Hogarthian.

Here he satirises John Wilkes, a popular journalist, former radical MP and campaigner for freedom of the press who had many spats – including a pistol duel – with his political opponents. He and Hogarth had a very public dispute, which for Hogarth took the form of a series of vicious prints. In this one, Wilkes is depicted as cross eyed (a trait said to be true) and wearing a wig that seems to have devil-like horns. On the table are copies of Wilkes’ radical pamphlet Northern Briton – a publication that irked politicians in both England and Scotland.


a caricature of Donald Trump on a potty

Agent Orange, Lorna Miller, 2017. Courtesy of the artist www.lornamiller.com

Another piece of savage inking from the pen of Lorna Miller who is one of a handful of women featured in the exhibition. Like the Thatcher era, the era of Donald Trump has led to an outpouring of cartoons satirising the American President and he makes several appearances in the Savage Ink exhibition.

The four Mr Prices

an old satrical cartoon showing a thin man, a tall man, a short man and a fat man

The Four Mr Prices, George Cruikshank, 1825.

Another classic Cruikshank, The four Mr Prices – High, Low, Full and Half, are physical representations of changing prices in times of economic instability. Cruikshank’s sister, Eliza Margaret Cruikshank, helped him to etch this print. You can see her initials in the right hand corner.

Hogarth on Elections

a busy scene showibg people crowding into a polling station

The Polling, Plate III, William Hogarth, 1758

In his series The Humours of an Election, William Hogarth takes aim at the contentious battle for Oxfordshire by the Whig and Tory parties in 1745. Over four oil paintings, which were engraved and turned into popular prints, Hogarth paints a raucous, corrupt and absurd view of politics and the election for the fictional country town of ‘Guzzledown’.

Scene three in Hogarth’s series sees voting taking place in public. Crowds of voters are being herded into the polling booth. Both candidates are shown using unscrupulous means to boost their support, including carrying the dying and sick to vote.

Queen Bee

a complex drawing of a hive with bee at the tip and various lords and ladies with worker bees at the bottom

The Queen Bee in her Hive!!! George Cruikshank, 1837

Cruikshank produced this print the year Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837. The bee was a symbol of industry in the 19th century and this print satirises British society by portraying it as a hierarchical beehive. The worker bees at the bottom are shown to be the most hard-working but ‘have no resemblance’ to the higher levels with the Queen and Drones enjoying all the honey at the top of the hive. At the bottom of the hive are the common or working bees. “Neither Queen or the Drones have any resemblance to these Bees, their labour is almost incessant” writes Cruikshank.

Savage Ink: The Cartoon & The Caricature is at The People’s History Museum until May 13 2018.


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