During the early twentieth century, performing arts caricature came of age as an art form in the United States as celebrities of song, stage, and screen were transformed into popular icons of American culture. Caricatures played a prominent role in the dramatic rise in circulation enjoyed by numerous popular magazines and daily newspapers after 1900, when a new generation of cartoonists and illustrators transformed famous faces into vivid likenesses that set the standard for future creators.
Influenced by American precedents, European traditions, and modern art, experienced artists found their talents in high demand as publishers vied for their services. Magazines such as the American Vanity Fair and the New Yorker devoted considerable space to caricatures of well-known dancers, singers, actors, and actresses, while major newspapers in New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere also began to reproduce theatrical drawings. The artists themselves became celebrities: "At the present moment, Miguel Covarrubias is about as well known in New York as it would be possible for anyone to be," performing arts critic Carl Van Vechten wrote in 1925. Al Hirschfeld, whose brilliant career spans eight decades, has been lionized for his unprecedented contributions to the history of theatrical caricature.
The artists' styles are as varied as their subjects. Oliver Herford, born in Sheffield, England, drew heavily from the contemporary European modes of caricature exemplified in the pages of British journals such as the London Vanity Fair and Punch. Ken Chamberlain learned his trade in New York from the influential political cartoonist Robert Minor, and Oscar Cesare was trained in Paris and exposed to the work of the great French poster artists. Cesare's successor at the New York Times, Al Hirschfeld, found inspiration in the work of Miguel Covarrubias, who in turn was informed by both modernist abstraction and strong Mexican traditions in caricature. The work of Makoto Wada reveals in its delicate draftsmanship and luminosity a debt to the legacy of Asian art. Their differences aside, all of these artists became masters of the genre and their drawings offer object lessons in artistry, wit, and the history of the performing arts in America.
All objects in this exhibition are preserved in the Prints and Photographs Division. This exhibition was prepared with support from the Caroline and Erwin Swann Memorial Fund for Caricature and Cartoon.