Caricature Art

What is a caricature?

The word “caricature” essentially means a “loaded portrait” from the Italian caricare—to charge or load.  A caricature is a rendered image showing the features of its subject exaggerating some features and simplifying others while still retaining a likeness that can be recognised. A caricaturist  conventionally 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).

While symbolism and metaphor underpins the structure of satirical cartoons, caricature provides both its currency and its bite. Caricature communicates who you are talking about to an audience, and it also provides some commentary on what you think of them. As Hogarth’s The Bench points out, there’s a difference between character and caricature.

  • Character is about recognising the person, caricature about commenting on that person. This is a process of denotation – we need to know accurately who this is;
  • For caricature to work, you need to capture the essence of the person from a ‘I know who that person is’ to ‘I know what that person thinks, feels, how they act’ perspective.  This second is about connotation
    – what are you saying about this person?

Caricatures can be insulting or complimentary and can serve a political purpose or be drawn solely for entertainment. Caricatures of politicians are commonly used in editorial cartoons, while caricatures of movie stars are often found in entertainment magazines. Some caricatures are commentaries on social practises.

Caricatures they are typically just as skilful and more influential over a longer period than most portrait paintings. For example the satirical etchings of Napoleon Bonaparte by the British artist James Gillray (1756-1815 depicted the French Emperor as very short and slightly ridiculous, in an oversized hat.Today, as a result, we still think of him as being shorter than he really was.

Caricatures first became a popular genre of fine art in the 16th and 17th century and were created by satirists to ridicule public figures and politicians (a caricature with a moral message is considered a satire). Grotesque art was a term given to portraits where the face is distorted into an ugly form. One of the best examples is a series of ‘grotesque heads’ from the 1490s by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). While the artist probably meant them to represent an extreme facial form (not necessarily drawn for humour), by the 18th century grotesque drawings had been renamed caricatures.


Ancient Pompeiian graffiti caricature of a politician.


  • Annibale Carracci (and his brother Agostino) in the 1590s were the first to apply the terms carico and caricareIn to some exaggerated portrait sketches they created. The descriptions they left, mention that the images were meant for humour to mock their own artistic theories which they taught at the Bologna Academy.
  • The sculptor Bernini (1598-1680) drew amusing portraits to mock both himself and friends. He wrote that a character could be captured with merely ‘a few pen strokes’
  • Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674-1755),  a Rococo painter was the first artist to set himself up as a professional caricaturist, making a healthy living out of producing amusing drawings of tourists visiting Italy.
  • Italian artist and designer Giuseppe Arcimboldo ((1527-93), active in Prague, who painted a series of burlesque portraits of Emperors and Kings, using painted forms of vegetables, pots, pans and even workmen’s tools.

Northern Europe

Grotesque art:

18th Century

From the 18th century, satirical caricatures became all the rage in France, Britain and America. By the mid 1700s enough Italian caricatures had arrived back in London to peak the interest of the publisher Arthur Pond. Pond printed a set of drawings by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), Carlo Maratti (1625–1713) and Ghezzi, all of which were well received.The advent of the railway meant that magazines could be quickly and widely distributed to an increasingly growing audience. With one stroke of a pen, a politician’s image could be destroyed.
William Hogarth (1697-1764) was one of the first English artists to resort to exaggerated cariacture-style portraiture – mainly in the form of moralistic genre paintings and prints, such asThe Harlot’s Progress“, “The Rake’s Progress“, and “Marriage a la Mode” (see: National Gallery London).

Later in the 18th century, artists started transforming people into other things such as animals, vegetables and fruits.

English caricaturists like James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827) depicted politicians of the French Revolution as goats, spiders and pigs to depict lechery, cunning and gluttony. The human face of the subject was added to the body of the animal so that there was no confusion. Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827)  was more of an artist and his work took its inspiration mostly from the public at large.

19th Century

In Britain Punch magazine was founded (1820s) and quickly became the most popular satirical magazine in the country. John Leech (1817-64) became one of its most famous illustrators. Punch magazine is also credited – during the period 1840-65 – with causing the word “cartoon” to replace the word “caricature”, in particular as regards politicians and political imagery.

George Cruikshank (1792–1878) English artist who created created political prints that attacked the royal family and leading politicians. He famously accepted a £100 bribe to stop printing pictures of King George III. In addition, he was famous for his social caricatures of British life for publications like The Cruikshank Comic Almanack (1835-1853) and Omnibus (1842). Cruikshanks’ New Union Club of 1819 is notable in the context of slavery. He was also a master of book illustration, creating drawings for Charles Dickens and others.

Honoré Daumier (1808–1879, French) French artist and printmaker – now seen as the “father of modern caricature”. He created over 4,000 lithographs, most of them caricatures on political, social, and everyday themes for French newspapers and periodicals. He was famous for his cutting political cartoons in the anti-monarchist weekly La Caricature, one of which got him 6 months in jail for criticizing King Louis Philippe. In 1835, the French authorities banned all seditious types of art, notably political caricatures, whereupon Daumier switched to social cartoons. The key to his success as a satirist, was his ability to match a subject’s mental state to a physical defect. He was greatly admired by important French painters like Delacroix (1793-1863) and Courbet (1819-77).

Jules Cheret (1836-1932)  the French printmaker and poster artist was another indirect contributor to the genre was who developed a cheaper type of colour lithography, used in poster art and publishing.

Thomas Nast (1840–1902 American) editorial cartoonist who is considered the father of political caricature in the United States.  He is often credited with creating the definitive caricature of Santa Claus, and often mistakenly credited with creating the definitive caricatures of the Democratic Donkey and the Republican Elephant.

20th Century

Caricature art was very much in evidence at the turn of the century and after, as the political temperature rose before the advent of television. In the years following the First World War, with the huge growth in newspapers and other periodicals, the genre underwent a renaissance in the United States, with caricatures accorded a popularity rivalling photographs. World leaders were satirized, military leaders were lampooned, as international conferences came and went.

Will Dyson (1880-1938)  the Australian cartoonist which he created a famous drawing in 1919, at the end of World War I. It showed the leaders of the victorious nations walking out of a room, having concluded the treaty of Versailles in their favour. But a young child is weeping in the corner, she is called the Class of 1940. It shows remarkable foresight as many historians regard the outcome of the Versailles treaty as being one of the main causes of World War II.

Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956) Illustrator, caricaturist, cartoonist. He was so gifted at drawing, that by the turn of the century he was Germany’s leading political cartoonist, and a successful caricaturist for a clutch of German and American publications. In 1906 he was head-hunted by the Chicago Tribune.

Fine Art: While newspaper caricatures gained in popularity, a number of painters – notably Whistler (1834-1903), Toulouse Lautrec (1864-1901), George Grosz (1893-1959), and Ben Shahn (1898-1969) pursued caricature in fine art painting.

Sir Max Beerbohm (1872–1956 British) British artist who had hundreds of his caricatures printed for fashionable magazines of the day like Vanity Fair and Strand Magazine – though despite this he is best remembered for his novel Zuleika Dobson (1911). His style of single-figure caricatures in formalized groupings was established by 1896 and flourished until about 1930. His published works include Caricatures of Twenty-five Gentlemen (1896), The Poets’ Corner (1904), and Rossetti and His Circle (1922). He published widely in fashionable magazines of the time, and his works were exhibited regularly in London at the Carfax Gallery (1901–18) and Leicester Galleries (1911–57).

William Gropper (1897-1977) Celebrated Communist cartoonist, noted for his caricatures and social realist drawings.

Alex Gard (1900–48 Russian) produced over 700 caricatures of celebrities and other fashionable people who frequented popular New York restaurants for the walls of Sardi’s Restaurant in the theatre district of New York City: the first artist to do so. Today the images are part of the Billy Rose Theatre Collection of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003, American) artist best remembered for his simple black and white drawing of famous celebrities and show-biz stars, as well as his cartoon drawings of politicians and TV stars. He was one of the few artists to be commissioned to provide art for U.S. postal stamps. Hirschfeld’s work appears in several American art museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) and the Museum of Modern Art (New York). He was even commissioned by the United States Postal Service to provide art for U.S. stamps. Permanent collections of Hirschfeld’s work appear at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and he boasts a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

Jose Miguel Covarrubias Duclaud (1904-57) Mexican painter, caricaturist and illustrator whose caricatures of celebrities appeared in The New Yorker and especially Vanity Fair.

David Levine (b.1926)  Americam caricaturist, famous for his pen-and-ink caricatures of famous writers and politicians, published in Time magazine, Playboy magazine, The New York Times and The New York Review of Books. His first cartoons appeared in 1963.

Mort Drucker (b.1929 American) Caricaturist with MAD magazine who became well known for his parodies of movie satires. He combined a comic strip style with caricature likenesses of film actors for Md, and he also contributed covers to Time. He has been recognized for his work with the National Cartoonists Society Special Features Award for 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988, and their Reuben Award for 1987.

Gerald Anthony Scarfe (b.1936) English caricaturist, illustrator for The New Yorker and editorial cartoonist for The Sunday Times. A former friend of the caricaturist Ralph Steadman, Scarfe was an early contributor to the scurrilous magazine Private Eye during the 1960s and 1970s, and also created illustrations for The Daily Sketch, The Evening Standard and Punch magazine. Later he produced caricatures for the credits of the famous satirical TV shows Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, as well as a series of drawings expressing the heroic and heinous characteristics of famous Britons, including: Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie, The Beatles and Diana, Princess of Wales.

Ronald Searle

Ralph Steadman (b.1936) British caricaturist and former friend of the artist Gerald Scarfe, he is noted for his political and social illustrations, for the American writer Hunter S. Thompson. In 1979 he was voted Illustrator of the Year by the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

In Britain, Punch magazine maintained the tradition of political cartoon art and caricature throughout the period 1950-92. Then, during the 1980s, the highly influential and image-shaping British TV show Spitting Image lampooned the politicians and union leaders of the Margaret Thatcher era.

Contemporary Caricaturists

Caricatures continue to remain popular today, and are used in magazines and newspapers to poke fun at film stars, politicians and celebrities. The only thing that has changed is the artist tools. Initially caricaturists used charcoal drawings, pencil or pen and ink drawings, but today an artist has access to graphics programs like Adobe Illustrator or Corel Painter.

Steve Bell

Steve Brodner (b.1954) Brooklyn-born political satirist and water colour artist. Noted for his satirical images of 21st century American politicians like Barack Obama and Sarah Palin.

Jan Op De Beeck (b.1958) Belgian caricaturist and expert at cross hatch and finger smearing. Noted for his books on caricature art. Was awarded the title of “World’s Best Caricaturist” in 2003.


S. Jithesh (Indian) is best known for his super-speedy style of Celebrity Caricaturing Stage Shows. He belongs to the genre of the odd and rare species of Performing Caricaturists. He is the first one who courageously and successfully experimented with and explored the performance dimensions of the ‘Art of Caricaturing’ as a perfect ‘Stage Art’ with consistency. He evolved and gave a fine finish to the Infotainment ‘Caricature Stage Show’ or ‘Caricature Concert’ through more than two thousand stages. His ‘Caricature Stage Show’ is a blend of poetry, anecdotes and socio-political satire with super speedy drawing which explores the performing level possibilities of the ‘Art of Caricaturing’. Sketching of more than thousand celebrity caricatures relentlessly with a lightning pace and satirical commentary is the major attraction of his ‘Caricature Stage Shows’. He is widely acclaimed as the ‘World’s Fastest Cartoonist’ Since his amazing ability to sketch 50 celebrity caricatures within 5 minutes.

Sebastian Kruger (b.1963) German artist known for his realistic but grotesque distortions of the faces of celebrities, typically captured in acrylic paint. He is noted for his lifelike depictions of Madonna as well as Keith Richards and Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones. Kruger’s cartoonist art is regularly published in Playboy magazine as well as Stern, Der Spiegel, L’Espresso, and USA Today.

Hermann Mejia (b.1973) Venezuelan caricaturist noted for his regular contributions to MAD Magazine. Mejia uses multiple techniques in his work, sometimes rendering his illustrations in black and white ink and copious amounts of cross-hatching, sometimes using watercolor, and sometimes combinations of both. Received a Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society in 2003.Hermann Mejia (Venezuelan) is known for his frequent work for MAD Magazine.

Gogu Neagoe (1976, Romanian) holds a Guinness World Record for doing 131 caricatures through the phone, without ever seeing the subject.

Robert Risko (b.1956) American artist who uses retro airbrushing techniques. Mentored by Andy Warhol, and influenced by the New York Deco revival, his works have appeared in numerous publications including Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Playboy and Esquire.

Sanford Ross (1907-1954, American) was recognized by New York critics for his lithographic caricatures of New Jersey mansions and civic buildings in the 1930s.

Ed Steckley (b.1973) Milwaukee artist who draws for Cracked magazine
Other well known contemporary caricature artists include Tom Richmond of Mad Magazine, Sam Norkin, Sergio Aragones, Rudy Cristiano, Pancho Willmarth, Bill Plympton, and Bruce Blitz.

Sam Viviano (b.1953) American cartoonist and caricaturist, and art-director of MAD magazine, whose drawings have appeared on the cover of Institutional Investor, in Readers Digest, Rolling Stone magazine, 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.

Vitali is known for his retro airbrush style. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Playboy, Vanity Fair, Esquire, and Interview.


(see Wikipedia article)

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 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.

Susan Brennan in her master’s thesis in 1982 devised a sytem for formalising caricature 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.

Mo et al.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.

On the other hand, Liang et al. 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.

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.They used line drawn images but Benson and Perrett showed similar effects with photographic quality images. Explanations for this advantage have been based on both norm-based theories of face recognition and exemplar-based theories of face recognition.

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. 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 sometimes hire for parties, where they will draw caricatures of the guests for their entertainment.