January 09, 2015

Harry Furniss - 'The Confessions of a Caricaturist' (1901)

Edward Carson by Irish cartoonist Harry Furniss.
Harry Furniss is an Irish-born cartoonist who worked in England and wrote an autobiography published in 1901, 'The Confessions of a Caricaturist, Illustrated'. He denied his Irishness:
"I was born in Ireland, in the town of Wexford, on March 26th, 1854. I do not, however, claim, to be an Irishman. My father was a typical Englishman, hailing from Yorkshire, and not in his appearance only, but in his tastes and sympathies, he was an unmistakable John Bull."
The irony of this can be found in the letters of George Bernard Shaw: "I am a traditional Irishman, my family came from Yorkshire." Harry also said:
"My family moved from Wexford to Dublin when I was ten. It is pleasant to know they left a good impression. In Miss Mary Banim’s account of Ireland I find the following reference to these aliens in Wexford, which I must allow my egotism to transcribe: “Many are the kindly memories that remain in Wexford of this warm-hearted, gifted family."
Self-Caricature of Furniss when he first arrived in London.
And he explained his move from Ireland to London:
"On the morning I left Ireland to seek my fortune in London I had a youthful notion that, once on the mainland of my parents’ country, St. Paul’s and the smoke of London would be visible; but we had passed through the Menai tunnel, grazed Conway Castle walls, and skirted miles of the Welsh rock-bound [Pg 27] coast, and yet no St. Paul’s was visible to my naked eye which was plastered against the window-pane of the carriage. The other eye, clothed and in its right mind, inspected the carriage and discovered that there were two other occupants—a lady and her maid. These interesting passengers had recovered from the effects of the Channel passage, and were eating their lunch.”
Harry wrote a chapter in his book explaining that caricature is ugly and and caricaturists are villainous, with the segment titled 'The Villain of Art'. He says that the cartoonist and caricaturist has a duty to be rude, ugly and villainous:
"One frequently hears the remark, "Caricature is so ugly." Well, certainly pure caricature is the villain of art, and the popular draughtsman, like the popular actor, should, to remain popular in his work, always play the virtuous hero. If the leading actor must play the villain, he takes care to make up inoffensive and tame. So the villain caricaturist need not be “ugly"—but then he cannot be strong. Nor is it left to an actor—unless he be the star or actor-manager—to remain popular by being tame and pretty in every part. So is the caricaturist, if he is not the star, liable to be cast to play the villain whether he likes it or not, and if he is a genuine worker he will not shrink from the part, merely to remain popular and curry favour with those deserving to be satirised. Now in Punch, as I was cast for it, I played the villain’s part. In doing so I was at times necessarily “ugly,” and therefore to some unpopular. I confess I felt it my duty not to shrink from being “ugly”.
He also said:
"The series of “Puzzle Heads,” in each of which a portrait of the celebrity is built up of personal attributes, characteristics, or incidents in the career of the person represented, could not but be unpleasant pictures. Some subscribers threatened to give up the paper if they were continued; others became subscribers for these Puzzle Heads alone. It is ever so. The old saying, “One man’s meat is another’s poison,” is as applicable to caricature as to anything else. It is impossible to please all tastes when catering for the large public, unless an editor is satisfied to be stereotyped and perfunctory."
And also:
"The cartoon in all its strength remains a record of an event which has lost its interest. One cannot always realise that the drawing was only strong because the feeling and interest at the time of its conception demanded it. Allowance should therefore be made for the villain’s ugly caricature, if it is a good drawing, prophetically correct, and therefore historically interesting... Perhaps no cartoon of mine in Punch caused such hostile criticism as “The New Cabinet” (August 27, 1892). It gave great offence to the Gladstonians. The Radical Press attacked me ferociously, and as I think most unfairly, for they treated it politically and not pictorially, and severely reprimanded Mr. Punch for publishing it. Had it been a Conservative Cabinet the Tory Press would not have resented it or allowed narrow-minded party politics to prejudice their mind in such trivial matters."
He also said:
"It is impossible to treat a strong political subject without offending some readers by amusing others, unless, as I say, the subject is treated in a colourless manner."
He explained further: 
"This particular cartoon hurt because it hit a strong situation in a truthful and straight-forward manner, and subsequent events proved it to be a correct conception... at the time no name was too bad for me."
He also said:
"It is indeed most true that nothing kills like ridicule, and in the course of my experience I have found it is just as easy unconsciously to inflict an injury with my pen and Indian ink as it is to do good."

This is what the Academy wrote in the late 1800s when reviewing the work of Furniss:
"A caricaturist is an artistic contortionist. He is grotesque for effect. A contortionist twists and distorts himself to cause amusement, but he is by nature straight of limb and a student of grace before he can contort his body in burlesque of the “human form divine.” Thus also is it with the caricaturist and his pencil. The good points of his subject must be plainly apparent to him before he can twist his study into the grotesque; to him it is necessary that the sublime should be known and appreciated ere he can convert it into the ridiculous, and without the aid of serious studies it is impossible for him fully to analyse and successfully produce the humorous and the satirical. Perchance he may even entertain a feeling of admiration for the subject he is holding up to ridicule, for serious moments and serious work are no strangers to the caricaturist.”
I also wrote a blog post on caricature being by organic necessity "brutal and bilious". Asked to define caricature Harry Furniss  said:
"I am asked what is caricature, how can I define it? Ah, here it is explained by some great authority—whom I cannot say, for I have it under the heading of “Cuttings from Colney Hatch,” undated, unnamed. Kindly read it carefully."

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