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Caricature of Aubrey Beardsley by Max Beerbohm (1896), taken from Caricatures of Twenty-five Gentlemen Beerbohm-Beardsley.jpg
Caricature of Aubrey Beardsley by Max Beerbohm (1896), taken from Caricatures of Twenty-five Gentlemen

A caricature is a rendered image showing the features of its subject in a simplified or exaggerated way through sketching, pencil strokes, or other artistic drawings (compare to: cartoon). Caricatures can be either insulting or complimentary, and can serve a political purpose, be drawn solely for entertainment, or for a combination of both. Caricatures of politicians are commonly used in editorial cartoons, while caricatures of movie stars are often found in entertainment magazines.


In literature, a caricature is a distorted representation of a person in a way that exaggerates some characteristics and oversimplifies others. [1]


The term is derived for the Italian caricare—to charge or load. An early definition occurs in the English doctor Thomas Browne's Christian Morals , published posthumously in 1716.

Expose not thy self by four-footed manners unto monstrous draughts, and Caricatura representations.

with the footnote:

When Men's faces are drawn with resemblance to some other Animals, the Italians call it, to be drawn in Caricatura

Thus, the word "caricature" essentially means a "loaded portrait". Until the mid 19th century, it was commonly and mistakenly believed that the term shared the same root as the French 'charcuterie', likely owing to Parisian street artists using cured meats in their satirical portrayal of public figures. [2]


Ancient Pompeiian graffiti caricature of a politician Graffiti politique de Pompei.jpg
Ancient Pompeiian graffiti caricature of a politician

Some of the earliest caricatures are found in the works of Leonardo da Vinci, who actively sought people with deformities to use as models. The point was to offer an impression of the original which was more striking than a portrait.[ citation needed ]

Caricature took a road to its first successes in the closed aristocratic circles of France and Italy, where such portraits could be passed about for mutual enjoyment.[ citation needed ]

While the first book on caricature drawing to be published in England was Mary Darly's A Book of Caricaturas (c. 1762), the first known North American caricatures were drawn in 1759 during the battle for Quebec. [3] These caricatures were the work of Brig.-Gen. George Townshend whose caricatures of British General James Wolfe, depicted as "Deformed and crass and hideous" (Snell), [3] were drawn to amuse fellow officers. [3]

James Gillray's The Plumb-pudding in danger (1805), which caricatured Pitt and Napoleon, was voted the most famous of all UK political cartoons. Caricature gillray plumpudding.jpg
James Gillray's The Plumb-pudding in danger (1805), which caricatured Pitt and Napoleon, was voted the most famous of all UK political cartoons.

Elsewhere, two great practitioners of the art of caricature in 18th-century Britain were Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827) and James Gillray (1757–1815). Rowlandson was more of an artist, and his work took its inspiration mostly from the public at large. Gillray was more concerned with the vicious visual satirisation of political life. They were, however, great friends and caroused together in the pubs of London. [5]

Published from 1868 to 1914, the London weekly magazine Vanity Fair became famous for its caricatures of famous people in society. [6] In a lecture titled The History and Art of Caricature, the British caricaturist Ted Harrison said that the caricaturist can choose to either mock or wound the subject with an effective caricature. [7] Drawing caricatures can simply be a form of entertainment and amusement – in which case gentle mockery is in order – or the art can be employed to make a serious social or political point. A caricaturist draws on (1) the natural characteristics of the subject (the big ears, long nose, etc.); (2) the acquired characteristics (stoop, scars, facial lines etc.); and (3) the vanities (choice of hair style, spectacles, clothes, expressions, and mannerisms).[ citation needed ]

Notable caricaturists


An example of a caricature created using computerized techniques, superimposed over a photographic image Caricature of Ammon Bundy.jpg
An example of a caricature created using computerized techniques, superimposed over a photographic image

There have been some efforts to produce caricatures automatically or semi-automatically using computer graphics techniques. For example, a system proposed by Akleman et al. [10] provides warping tools specifically designed toward rapidly producing caricatures. There are very few software programs designed specifically for automatically creating caricatures.

Computer graphic system requires quite different skill sets to design a caricature as compared to the caricatures created on paper. Thus, using a computer in the digital production of caricatures requires advanced knowledge of the program's functionality. Rather than being a simpler method of caricature creation, it can be a more complex method of creating images that feature finer coloring textures than can be created using more traditional methods.[ citation needed ]

A milestone in formally defining caricature was Susan Brennan's master's thesis [11] in 1982. In her system, caricature was formalized as the process of exaggerating differences from an average face. For example, if Prince Charles has more prominent ears than the average person, in his caricature the ears will be much larger than normal. Brennan's system implemented this idea in a partially automated fashion as follows: the operator was required to input a frontal drawing of the desired person having a standardized topology (the number and ordering of lines for every face). She obtained a corresponding drawing of an average male face. Then, the particular face was caricatured simply by subtracting from the particular face the corresponding point on the mean face (the origin being placed in the middle of the face), scaling this difference by a factor larger than one, and adding the scaled difference back onto the mean face.[ citation needed ]

Though Brennan's formalization was introduced in the 1980s, it remains relevant in recent work. Mo et al. [12] refined the idea by noting that the population variance of the feature should be taken into account. For example, the distance between the eyes varies less than other features, such as the size of the nose. Thus even a small variation in the eye spacing is unusual and should be exaggerated, whereas a correspondingly small change in the nose size relative to the mean would not be unusual enough to be worthy of exaggeration.[ citation needed ]

On the other hand, Liang et al. [13] argue that caricature varies depending on the artist and cannot be captured in a single definition. Their system uses machine learning techniques to automatically learn and mimic the style of a particular caricature artist, given training data in the form of a number of face photographs and the corresponding caricatures by that artist. The results produced by computer graphic systems are arguably not yet of the same quality as those produced by human artists. For example, most systems are restricted to exactly frontal poses, whereas many or even most manually produced caricatures (and face portraits in general) choose an off-center "three-quarters" view. Brennan's caricature drawings were frontal-pose line drawings. More recent systems can produce caricatures in a variety of styles, including direct geometric distortion of photographs.[ citation needed ]

Recognition advantage

Brennan's caricature generator was used to test recognition of caricatures. Rhodes, Brennan and Carey demonstrated that caricatures were recognised more accurately than the original images. [14] They used line drawn images but Benson and Perrett showed similar effects with photographic quality images. [15] Explanations for this advantage have been based on both norm-based theories of face recognition [14] and exemplar-based theories of face recognition. [16]

Modern use

A modern, street-style caricature of a man (c. 2010), with the subject on the right MattCaric.jpg
A modern, street-style caricature of a man (c. 2010), with the subject on the right

Beside the political and public-figure satire, most contemporary caricatures are used as gifts or souvenirs, often drawn by street vendors. For a small fee, a caricature can be drawn specifically (and quickly) for a patron. These are popular at street fairs, carnivals, and even weddings, often with humorous results. [17]

Caricature artists are also popular attractions at many places frequented by tourists, especially oceanfront boardwalks, where vacationers can have a humorous caricature sketched in a few minutes for a small fee. Caricature artists can sometimes be hired for parties, where they will draw caricatures of the guests for their entertainment.[ citation needed ] [18]


There are numerous museums dedicated to caricature throughout the world, including the Museo de la Caricatura of Mexico City, the Muzeum Karykatury in Warsaw, the Caricatura Museum Frankfurt, the Wilhelm Busch Museum in Hanover and the Cartoonmuseum in Basel. The first museum of caricature in the Arab world was opened in March, 2009, at Fayoum, Egypt. [19]

See also

Related Research Articles

Cartoon Form of two-dimensional illustrated visual art

A cartoon is a type of illustration that is typically drawn, sometimes animated, in an unrealistic or semi-realistic style. The specific meaning has evolved over time, but the modern usage usually refers to either: an image or series of images intended for satire, caricature, or humor; or a motion picture that relies on a sequence of illustrations for its animation. Someone who creates cartoons in the first sense is called a cartoonist, and in the second sense they are usually called an animator.

Political cartoon Illustration used to comment on current events and personalities

A political cartoon, a form of editorial cartoon, is a cartoon graphic with caricatures of public figures, expressing the artist's opinion. An artist who writes and draws such images is known as an editorial cartoonist. They typically combine artistic skill, hyperbole and satire in order to either question authority or draw attention to corruption, political violence and other social ills.

James Gillray British artist (1756–1815)

James Gillray was a British caricaturist and printmaker famous for his etched political and social satires, mainly published between 1792 and 1810. Many of his works are held at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Thomas Rowlandson 18th/19th-century English artist and caricaturist

Thomas Rowlandson was an English artist and caricaturist of the Georgian Era, noted for his political satire and social observation. A prolific artist and printmaker, Rowlandson produced both individual social and political satires, as well as large number of illustrations for novels, humorous books, and topographical works. Like other caricaturists of his age such as James Gillray, his caricatures are often robust or bawdy. Rowlandson also produced highly explicit erotica for a private clientele; this was never published publicly at the time and is now only found in a small number of collections. His caricatures included those of people in power such as the Duchess of Devonshire, William Pitt the Younger and Napoleon Bonaparte.

Honoré Daumier French artist (1808–1879)

Honoré-Victorin Daumier was a French painter, sculptor, and printmaker, whose many works offer commentary on the social and political life in France, from the Revolution of 1830 to the fall of the second Napoleonic Empire in 1870. He earned a living throughout most of his life producing caricatures and cartoons of political figures and satirizing the behavior of his countrymen in newspapers and periodicals, for which he became well known in his lifetime and is still known today. He was a republican democrat who attacked the bourgeoisie, the church, lawyers and the judiciary, politicians, and the monarchy. He was jailed for several months in 1832 after the publication of Gargantua, a particularly offensive and discourteous depiction of King Louis-Philippe. Daumier was also a serious painter, loosely associated with realism.

<i>Le Charivari</i>

Le Charivari was an illustrated magazine published in Paris, France, from 1832 to 1937. It published caricatures, political cartoons and reviews. After 1835, when the government banned political caricature, Le Charivari began publishing satires of everyday life. The name refers to the folk practice of holding a charivari, a loud, riotous parade, to shame or punish wrongdoers.

Charles Philipon French journalist and artist

Charles Philipon was a French lithographer, caricaturist and journalist. He was the founder and director of the satirical political journals La Caricature and of Le Charivari

Sam Viviano American cartoonist

Sam Viviano is an American caricature artist and art director. Viviano’s caricatures are known for their wide jaws, which Viviano has explained is a result of his incorporation of side views as well as front views into his distortions of the human face. He has also developed a reputation for his ability to do crowd scenes. Explaining his twice-yearly covers for Institutional Investor magazine, Viviano has said that his upper limit is sixty caricatures in nine days.

André Gill French caricaturist (1840–1885)

André Gill was a French caricaturist. Born Louis-Alexandre Gosset de Guînes at Paris, the son of the Comte de Guînes and Sylvie-Adeline Gosset, Gill studied at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. He adopted the pseudonym André Gill in homage to his hero, James Gillray. Gill began illustrating for Le Journal Amusant, but he became known for his work for the weekly four-sheet newspaper La Lune, edited by Francis Polo, in which he drew portraits for a series entitled The Man of the Day. He worked for La Lune from 1865 to 1868. When La Lune was banned, he worked for the periodical L'Éclipse from 1868 to 1876. Gill also drew for famous periodical Le Charivari.

Kevin Kallaugher American cartoonist

Kevin Kallaugher is a political cartoonist for The Economist and the Baltimore Sun. He cartoons using the pen name, KAL.

Isaac Cruikshank Scottish painter and caricaturist

Isaac Cruikshank (1764–1811), Scottish painter and caricaturist, was born in Edinburgh and spent most of his career in London. Cruikshank is known for his social and political satire. His sons Isaac Robert Cruikshank (1789–1856) and George Cruikshank (1792–1878) also became artists, and the latter in particular achieved fame as an illustrator and caricaturist.

This is a timeline of significant events in comics prior to the 20th century.

<i>Characters and Caricaturas</i>

Characters and Caricaturas is an engraving by English artist William Hogarth, that he produced as the subscription ticket for his 1743 series of prints, Marriage à-la-mode, and which was eventually issued as a print in its own right. Critics had sometimes dismissed the exaggerated features of Hogarth's characters as caricature and, by way of an answer, he produced this picture filled with characterisations accompanied by a simple illustration of the difference between characterisation and caricature.

<i>The Bench</i> (Hogarth)

The Bench is the title of both a 1758 oil-on-canvas painting by the English artist William Hogarth, and a print issued by him in the same year. Unlike many of Hogarth's engravings produced from painted originals, the print differs considerably from the painting. It was intended as a demonstration of the differences between character painting, caricature and outré—developing on the theme he had begun to address in Characters and Caricaturas —but Hogarth was unhappy with the result as it showed only "characters", and he continued to work on the piece until his death.

Jean-Pierre Dantan French sculptor

Jean-Pierre Dantan, known as Dantan the Younger, was a French portrait sculptor. His subjects include many famous figures from the realms of politics, music and the arts, and literature. He is said to be the inventor of the sculptural caricature.

Mary and Matthew Darly English printsellers and caricaturists

Mary and Matthew Darly were English printsellers and caricaturists during the 1770s. Mary Darly was a printseller, caricaturist, artist, engraver, writer, and teacher. She wrote, illustrated, and published the first book on caricature drawing, A Book of Caricaturas [sic], aimed at "young gentlemen and ladies." Mary was the wife of Matthew Darly, also called Matthias, a London printseller, furniture designer, and engraver. Mary was evidently the second wife of Matthew; his first was named Elizabeth Harold.

Wilhelm Busch Museum Art museum in Lower Saxony, Germany

The Wilhelm Busch Museum is a museum in Hanover, Lower Saxony, Germany. It features the world's largest collection of works by Wilhelm Busch, as well as contemporary comic art, illustrations and drawings.

<i>La Caricature</i> (1830–1843) Defunct weekly satirical magazine (1830–1843)

La Caricature was a satirical weekly published French periodical that was distributed in Paris between 1830 and 1843 during the July Monarchy. Its cartoons repeatedly attacked King Louis Philippe, whom it typically depicted as a pear.

Feliu Elias Spanish painter, art historian and historian (1878–1948)

Feliu Elias i Bracons was a Catalan caricaturist, painter and critic.


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  2. Lynch, John (1926). A History of Caricature. London: Faber & Dwyer.
  3. 1 2 3 Mosher, Terry. "Drawn and Quartered." Leader and Dreamers Commemorative Issue. Maclean's. 2004: 171. Print.
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  8. The Slave in European Art: From Renaissance Trophy to Abolitionist Emblem, ed Elizabeth Mcgrath and Jean Michel Massing, London (The Warburg Institute)2012
  9. Archived 2009-02-10 at the Wayback Machine , the New York Public Library Inventory of the Sardi's caricatures, 1925–1952.
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  13. L. Liang, H. Chen, Y. Xu, and H. Shum, Example-Based Caricature Generation with Exaggeration, Pacific Graphics 2002.
  14. 1 2 Rhodes, Gillian; Brennan, Susan; Carey, Susan (1987-10-01). "Identification and ratings of caricatures: Implications for mental representations of faces". Cognitive Psychology. 19 (4): 473–497. doi:10.1016/0010-0285(87)90016-8. PMID   3677584. S2CID   41097143.
  15. Benson, Philip J.; Perrett, David I. (1991-01-01). "Perception and recognition of photographic quality facial caricatures: Implications for the recognition of natural images". European Journal of Cognitive Psychology. 3 (1): 105–135. doi:10.1080/09541449108406222. ISSN   0954-1446.
  16. Lewis, Michael B.; Johnston, Robert A. (1998-05-01). "Understanding Caricatures of Faces". The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A. 51 (2): 321–346. doi:10.1080/713755758. ISSN   0272-4987. PMID   9621842. S2CID   13022741.
  17. McGlynn, Katla (June 16, 2010). "Street Portraits Gone Wrong: The Funniest Caricature Drawings Ever (PICTURES)". Archived from the original on August 13, 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-31.
  18. "Caricature artist for hire in modern use". YTEevents . Archived from the original on 2021-04-22.
  19. "A sanctuary for Egyptian caricature opens in Fayoum". Daily News Egypt (Egypt). Daily News Egypt   via  HighBeam Research (subscription required). 4 March 2009. Archived from the original on 5 May 2013. Retrieved 8 September 2012.