Contact: Harry Katz (202) 707-8696
December 14, 1994
Satirical Cartoons of the "Gilded Age" on View in the Oval Gallery of Library of Congress
An exhibition in the Library's sixth floor Oval Gallery, "Savage Glee: Pictorial Satire of the Gilded Age," displays 40 particularly potent examples of political cartoons by Thomas Nast, Joseph Keppler, James A. Wales, and their colleagues published in magazines such as Harper's Weekly, Puck, and Judge during the years following the Civil War. "Savage Glee" can be viewed in the Madison Building of the Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave. SE, through March 3, Monday through Friday only, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m..
In his 1873 novel of the same name, Mark Twain referred to the years following the Civil War as "The Gilded Age," an era characterized by extremes of wealth and poverty, reform and corruption. Confronted by waves of immigrants, rampant urbanization, and rapid social change, cartoonists and their readers took refuge in satire. They caricatured the extremes of contemporary American life, as if through ridicule they could keep the modern world at bay. They attacked corrupt politicians, greedy capitalists, sinister anarchists, fallen ministers, and misguided reformers. They lampooned African Americans, Jews, women, Chinese and Irish immigrants, Native Americans, and other groups outside the spectrum of political power. Classic caricatures of suffragist Susan B. Anthony, the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, and President Grover Cleveland are included in the exhibition.
For all that seems angry and negative in pictorial satire of the Gilded Age, however, the cartoons also displayed great humor, intelligence, and wit. Puck publisher and cartoonist Joseph Keppler, a former actor, often drew from Shakespeare and mythology in creating his images, and much of the artwork displayed in the exhibition is extraordinary. In addition, the Gilded Age saw the rise of high quality commercial color printing and, after 1880, most successful satirical journals featured covers and centerfolds were printed in lavish color, some of which are included in "Savage Glee."
All of the items in the exhibition are drawn from the Library's holdings, which include the largest collection of American prints and drawings in existence, as well as a comprehensive collection of early American satirical journals.
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