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caricature, a satirical drawing, plastic representation, or description which, through exaggeration of natural features, makes its subject appear ridiculous. Although 16th-century Northern painters, such as Holbein, Bruegel, and Bosch, employed certain elements of caricature, no comic tradition was established until the 17th cent. with the work of the Carracci. In the 18th cent. caricature flourished in England in the works of Hogarth, Rowlandson, and Gillray. In Spain, Francisco Goya's Los caprichos and Disasters of War illustrate the less attractive sides of human nature. The genre expanded to include political and social as well as personal satire, developing into the art of the cartoon. Periodicals of caricature, such as the French Charivari (1832), followed by Punch in England, Simplicissimus in Germany, and Puck, Life, and Judge in the United States, were quite popular in the 19th cent. They featured work by Daumier, George Cruikshank, John Tenniel, Art Young, E. W. Kemble, and Daniel Fitzpatrick. Modern caricaturists of note include David Low, Ronald Searle, Max Beerbohm, Al Hirschfeld, David Levine, and H. L. Block. Sculpture generally lends itself less well to caricature, but an exception exists in the series of heads by Franz Xavier Messerschmidt (1736–83) which represent exaggerated states of emotion and character. In literature, caricature has been a popular form since the ancient Greeks. Through verbal exaggeration and distortion the writer achieves an immediate, comic, often satiric effect. No one has made wider use of the literary caricature than Dickens.


See L. Lambourne, Caricature (1984); R. G. Goldstein, Censorship of Caricature in Nineteenth-Century France (1989); C. C. McPhee and N. M. Orenstein, Infinite Jest: Caricature and Satire from Leonardo to Levine (2011).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an artistic method of typification, the use of a cartoon or grotesque for the purpose of deliberate, tendentious, critical exaggeration and emphasis of the negative side of life or people. In caricature, which is a specific manifestation of the comic, satire and humor are used to expose, criticize, and deride various social and political phenomena, as well as everyday occurrences.

In the broad sense of the word, a caricature is any representation that deliberately creates a comic effect; combines the real and the fantastic; exaggerates and emphasizes the figures, faces, clothing, or manners of people; and alters the relationship between people and their surroundings. Unexpected comparisons and juxtapositions are also properties of a caricature. In this sense, caricature can be applied to an extremely wide range of subjects and can be compared to carnivals, theatrical buffoonery, burlesque, and epigrams. This type of caricature originated in antiquity. It later appeared in medieval reliefs and folk art, particularly popular prints. Caricature can be used in various kinds of art, for example, poster art.

In a more narrow sense of the word, caricature is a distinctive kind of pictorial art. Usually an element of the graphic arts, it is rarely used in painting and sculpture. Caricature is the main form of graphic satire and is clearly ideological and socially critical in content. The art usually flourishes during periods of large-scale social conflicts and intense activities of the masses. It serves as a powerful and effective weapon in the struggle of democratic forces.

The origins of the genre of caricature are tied to the Peasants’ War of 1524–26 in Germany, the Reformation, and the first bourgeois revolutions of the 16th through 18th centuries in the Netherlands, England, and France. During this period, the influence of inexpensive popular prints, folk morals, and the aesthetic principles of folklore was clearly discernible in caricatures. This influence was typical during later stages of the development of caricature—for example, in Russian caricature of 1812, Mexican political graphic art between 1910 and 1920, and Chinese caricature of the 1920’s.

Text plays an important role in caricature. The active social role of this art is reflected by its popularity—it is the most widespread of all the various forms of pictorial art. Caricatures are executed in the media that provide the greatest circulation —wood engraving, etching, and lithography. They are also reproduced by the printing press. Caricatures are distributed in the form of leaflets, magazine and newspaper illustrations, and easily accessible anthologies.

Maintaining its critical purposes and its distinctive form, the art of caricature also reflects the stylistic elements of the art of its time. Classical principles are expressed in many caricatures of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The influence of modernism is evident in magazine caricatures of the early 20th century. Elements of expressionism are reflected in the work of a number of German caricaturists between 1910 and 1930. Of all the artistic genres of an epoch, caricature most directly focuses on the social events of the day. By bringing art closer to urgent social problems, it affects artistic development as a whole.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the romanticists, who allotted a prominent place to irony and the grotesque in their art, theoretically substantiated the aesthetic significance of caricature for the first time. However, as early as the first half of the 18th century, W. Hogarth satirized the customs and manners of contemporary English society in his paintings and engravings. His work marked the beginning of the systematic development of caricature as an important branch of the representational arts. Hogarth was followed by J. Gillray, T. Rowlandson, and G. Cruikshank, professional English graphic artists and caricaturists of the second half of the 18th century and the early 19th. These three artists developed their own type of caricature; transforming genre scenes into a distinctive type of dramatized spectacle, they exposed the ugly and ludicrous sides of life. The fervor of the social criticism in English caricature never went beyond expressions of parliamentary opposition or derision of morals and manners. However, the English caricaturists did help establish many of the artistic devices of subsequent European caricature.

Caricaturists began to execute works that responded to and commented upon all of the major social, state, and international events—for example, caricatures that appeared during the Great French Revolution, British anti-Napoleonic leaflets, and Russian satirical popular prints by I. I. Terebenev, A. G. Vene-tsianov, and I. A. Ivanov. Russian caricatures were directed against the expansionist intentions of Napoleon and the Gallomania of the Russian nobility. A. O. Orlovskii created incisive caricatures of serf owners. In the satirical etchings of F. Goya, which castigated Spanish reactionism and obscurantism, unprecedented force and artistic depth were imparted to the grotesque language of caricature.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the development of caricature was closely related to journalism. Caricatures ranged in content from political pamphlets to topical satire. The art became particularly associated with progressive journalism and its social and political orientation. Daily contributions to journals and newspapers became the caricaturists’ usual form of creative expression. Nineteenth-century progressive caricaturists, participating in class struggles, devoted a great deal of attention to the central theme of critical realism—the defense of the rights and dignity of the individual in a money-oriented society. The work of the most prominent caricaturist, H. Daumier, which was permeated by antibourgeois zeal, was also characterized by its broad scope of expression that ranged from incisive criticism to sad humor. This antibourgeois attitude was also reflected in the caricatures by G. Pilotell and Molock that were devoted to the Paris Commune of 1871.

As a result of restrictions imposed by censorship, incisive social criticism often took the form of caricatures ridiculing the customs and manners of a society. These customs and manners symbolized the vices of the political order and social life. The text accompanying the illustration helped the reader to grasp the hidden satirical meaning. This type of illustration was characteristic of the artists N. A. Stepanov, N. V. Ievlev, and P. M. Shmel’nikov, who contributed to mid-19th-century Russian satirical journals, such as Iskra (The Spark) and Gudok (The Whistle). These journals supported the revolutionary and democratic struggle against autocracy and serfdom.

The art of caricature borrows the allegorical and symbolic techniques of the popular print, which personify such abstract concepts as labor, capital, and freedom. One of the most effective and capacious satirical devices is the social mask, a grotesque generalized image. This device is either an individual portrait or a generalized representation that epitomizes the essential characteristics of the ruling classes. It was used by the French artists C. Philipon, Grandville, and Daumier to create denunciatory portraits of the bourgeois king Louis Philippe and the rogue Robert Macaire. Satirical portraits of the tsar and his high officials, which evolved into social masks, appeared in political graphic art in Russia. They were particularly prevalent during the Revolution of 1905–07 (V. A. Serov, B. M. Kustodiev, and E. E. Lansere). Artists who were affiliated with the German journal Simplizissimus (founded in 1896) and the Russian journals Satirikon (1908–14) and Novyi Satirikon (1913–18) furthered the development of a terse, grotesque, graphic vocabulary for caricature.

Twentieth-century caricature reflects the growing complexity of the relationships of various social forces. In the caricatures of the Revolution of 1905–07 in Russia the ideas of the general democratic struggle for freedom and socialist ideas were expressed. The latter were further developed in the political illustrations of the pre-October Bolshevik newspaper Pravda. Antimilitaristic caricature, protesting the expansionist policies of imperialism that impart suffering and pain to mankind, was particularly intense and emotionally incisive. The political drawings of F. Mazereel, in which elements of the grotesque, the tragic, and the romantically pathetic are combined, greatly influenced the development of caricature.

As the class struggle of the proletariat became more critical between 1910 and 1920, progressive caricaturists were affiliated more frequently with the workers’ and communist press. These progressive artists included R. Maynor, W. Gropper, F. Ellis, and J. Burk in the USA; George Grosz, O. Dix, H. Zille, and R. Schlichter in Germany; L. Laforge, R. Dubosc, and R. Ca-brol in France; and J. Lada in Czechoslovakia. Since the 1930’s, antifascist satirical drawings have played important roles (I. Beshkov in Bulgaria and D. Low in Great Britain). After World War II, the progressive caricaturists Jean Effel (France), L. Mittelber (France), and H. Bidstrup (Denmark) became extremely popular.

In the USSR, during the early years of Soviet power, caricature became an integral element of various types of mass propa-gandistic art. The ideological and stylistic principles of Soviet caricature were developed in revolutionary satirical posters (including the Okna ROSTA [ROSTA placards]) by V. V. Maya-kovsky, M. M. Cheremnykh, D. S. Moor, V. N. Deni, and V. V. Lebedev. Its political role as a direct appeal to the widest masses of people and the fervor of its criticism of the external and internal enemies of the revolution also grew. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, numerous satirical journals that were central to the development of professional caricature appeared in the RSFSR and other republics. Notable Soviet caricaturists include I. A. Maliu-tin, M. M. Cheremnykh, A. A. Radakov, L. G. Brodaty, B. E. Efimov, N. E. Radlov, Iu. A. Ganf, K. P. Rotov, B. I. Antonov-skii, Kukryniksy, A. M. Kanevskii, V. N. Goriaev, K. S. Eliseev, B. I. Prorokov, L. V. Soifertis, I. M. Semenov, A. Azimzade, and V. G. Litvinenko. Caricatures that attack the reactionary, imperialist, and colonialist forces in the world are published regularly in newspapers and have acquired great political significance.

During the Great Patriotic War of 1941—45, caricature, being among the most widely circulated forms of art, played an important role in the patriotic instruction of the people in the struggle against fascist aggression. Cartoons appeared regularly in journals, newspapers (including the newspapers at the front), and propaganda leaflets; it also was a principal element in poster art (for example, the Okna TASS [TASS placards]).

Since the end of the war, caricaturists have expanded their range of subjects. They address their work to the various aspects of daily life, history, and international and domestic affairs, as well as to the struggle against vestiges of capitalism. Soviet caricaturists and their counterparts in other socialist countries (A. Beier-Red and H. S. Zandberg in the German Democratic Republic; B. Linke and E. Lipinski in Poland; S. Venev in Bulgaria; and Cik Damadian in Rumania) are active in the struggle for communist ideals.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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