A cover of Tit-Bits magazine from 1899 with a Pears soap display advertisement
‘How Caricaturists Catch Their Subjects’ was the title of an 1889 article in George Newnes’ groundbreaking weekly Tit-Bits (from all the most interesting books, periodicals and contributors in the world). The unnamed interviewer ‘caught up with’ Harry Furniss – a Punch contributor best known for his ‘I used your soap cartoon’ and trying to establish his own humorous magazine, Lika Joka; Leslie Ward – ‘Spy’ of Vanity Fair; and Alfred Bryan (who reveals that ‘A good cartoon costs about £20,’ … ‘with the engraving’). The article is repeated here, both for its insight into this trio and as an example of the style of Victorian as well. There were no images in the original article but I have added some images and explanation.
A representative of Tit-Bits has recently been chatting with a trio of celebrated caricaturists, who are admittedly at the head of the respective branches of their art.
Harry Furniss cartoon from Punch that was later used by Pear’s soap, one of the founders of modern advertising techniques, for its campaigns – included as full-page in a Punch almanac
Mr Harry Furniss may be found in the immediate neighbourhood of Primrose Hill. He is thirty-five years of age, an amateur juggler, plays golf in the same club of with the Right Hon. A. J. Balfour, MP, is captain; is a splendid horseman – see the worthy artist “doing” Hampstead on horseback every morning before settling down to work – and, occasionally, when out, is persuaded to mimic MPs in voice and gesture, which later, as everybody knows is his forte with the pencil.
“Just in time. Have a cup? Oh! I always take a little Souchong at three.”
We took a cup and a chair, and “H.F.” took us into his confidence by saying “I started in knickerbockers. Yes; when at school I wrote a little journal and illustrated it myself, all in MS, and published it every fortnight. It exists no longer. At 19, I came to London town, and as you know my favourite ‘pitch’ now for many years has been the precincts of the House.
“I have a special privilege from the Lord Chamberlain to go there, and all the sketches you see are taken from life, for I would rather have my man for a minute than all the photographs in the world. I do a lot of my sketches in the lobby of the House, spending two or three evenings a week there. I just make a rough idea in my note-book, retaining all the little peculiarities of my subject, for mannerisms are the secret of caricaturing.
“Then I elaborate on the morrow, getting my model – here he is, he has been with me for 10 years, and has sat for every MP during that period – to pose so as to get the folds of the coat, trousers, etc. In the House of Lords we are not allowed to sketch, so I keep watch outside.
“I have spoken about mannerisms. The late Mr W. E. Forster had a habit of walking with his arm on his hip; hence he was so caricatured. Mr Joseph Arch always wipes his hand down his coat before shaking hands, whilst Mr Gladstone – who, in common with the late Earl of Beaconsfield, is simply invaluable to the caricaturist, has many little peculiarities.
“You see, a caricature turns on the smallest point. A cartoon of Lord Hardwicke would surely find him in a hat. He gained a wonderful reputation through his hat. He discovered a way of cleaning it which to this day has never been found out.
“Well, out of all those in the House, I most respectfully select Mr Gladstone, as being the best ‘all round’ man. Why, sir, I have sat for hours watching the great statesman, seen his flower fade and his tie work round to the back of his neck, and I firmly believe that Mr Gladstone will be known in the future by his caricatures, for I have never yet seen a good picture of him published.
“Mr John Morley is the most difficult to catch. He looks young one moment and old the next’, and Sir Richard Temple is the easiest. Anybody with marked features is readily caught. I am of opinion that the members rather like it, but to judge from the appealing letters I have from some of their wives, begging me not to make their husbands look too ridiculous, I fear they do not always care about it.
“When a new Parliament meets, of course I am anxious to get the latest members. It is very funny, sometimes, to see how a member will come up to me and say, ‘Can I do anything to help you?’ Mind you, this is often the very man I want; so I get him to hold a supposed subject in conversation for a few moments, and give him a wink when I have done. I have really got him, and to the best of advantage, for all his little peculiarities are bound to come out under such circumstances.
“There is an excellent caricaturist in the House – Mr Frank Lockwood, QC, MP. He sold me once. Last session there was a new member of the House whom I particularly wanted to catch. In my innocence I asked Mr Lockwood to bring my subject along to the lobby – talking to him. Away went the QC; I saw not the evil look in his eyes. I waited for half an hour, but he never returned. I went in search. The new MP had gone; so had Lockwood, with a caricature in his coat pocket!”
And just as we are speaking, a merry peal of laughter reminds Mr Furniss that his own children always sit for the little ones in his pictures, and pretty little models they are, too. Round the walls of his studio are some fine specimens of the style of art of long ago; valuable first editions of books fill his library; four curious-looking Japanese heads, which Mr Furniss calls his “four-fathers,” repose in a corner; and in his billiard-room are original drawings of over two hundred members of the house, for, says the artist, “I can’t keep away from my friends even when having a game of billiards, so I give them a place round the walls where they can look on.”
The “Spy” of Vanity Fair is Mr Leslie Ward, a dark-complexioned gentleman, with a black, military-looking moustache, 38 years of age, and who lives in a secluded little studio out Chelsea way. He will tell you that his father was the well-known RA [Royal Academy member], and that he gave instructions when his boy was sent to Eton that he should never be allowed to finger a pencil, knowing the uphill work of an artist’s life; how in spite of his thoughtful parents wishes, Spy can bring forth a weighty volume showing his very earliest efforts in the shape of caricatures of everybody between the headmaster and the hall-porter.
Then he became a student in the Royal Academy, until, on one lucky Monday in 1873, Millais caught sight of a sketch of Professor Owen which evinced such talent that the great artist gained for him an introduction to the position he now fills.
“I must have done something like 500 caricatures for that one paper since then,” said Mr Ward, at the time taking pencil and paper and preparing to “skit off” the writer. “I work mostly in the mornings, and I may make dozens of sketches before I feel that I have got him. I abominate photos. I like to catch my man out, my favourite method being stalking my subject for a mile or two, and getting his peculiarities that way, or else to be in a room with him, while he is totally ignorant of my presence.
“To be properly caricatured one must be natural. When I took [Henry] Searle, the champion sculler (Vanity Fair, September 1889], I walked with him for six miles; observe the champion taking his constitutional. For Mr Augustus Harris [Drury Lane theatre manager who was renowned for his pantomimes], I went to his house to dinner, and afterwards spent the evening with him at the theatre [Vanity Fair, 28 September 1889.].
“But let me tell you one or two little experiences of the difficulties which beset the caricaturist. I once took the late [Gerald Wellesley] Dean of Windsor [Castle] [Vanity Fair, 8 April 1876]. He was a very early riser, and would get up every morning at seven o’clock and walk round about the Round Tower. I went down to Windsor, and for two or here mornings was up with the dean, and, much to his discomfiture, followed in his footsteps.
“Now, he wore a most hideous slouched hat on these early morning trips, and in this identical chapeau I drew him. When once he saw how he looked in it, for he had a copy of the caricature sent to him, he never wore it again, and his wife told a friend how thankful she was, for she had been trying to get him to give it up for years. He did when he saw my picture!
“Dr [Charles] Goodford, the late Provost of Eton, always carried a very big umbrella on his shoulder, military fashion [Vanity Fair, 22 January 1876]. He had a peculiar way, too, of standing with his legs wide apart. So I drew him. When he saw the caricature he said, ‘Well. I’m sure I never stand like that.’
“’You do!’ his wife assured him; ‘it is exactly like you.’
“’Nonsense’; I’ll never believe it,’ replied the Provost.
“But one day he was walking along the streets of Windsor with his wife, when he suddenly halted to look in a shop window. Behind was a large mirror. He saw himself in the glass, and, turning to his wide, exclaimed: ‘My dear, you are perfectly right!’
“I spent a day at Chislehurst for the purpose of making a drawing of the Prince Imperial [Louis Napoléon, Vanity Fair, 14 July 1877]. Cetewayo, the Zulu king, was holding a sort of “at home” when I caught him [Vanity Fair, 26 August 1882]. He was quite unaware of the fact that, when he shook hands with me, I had transformed his face into my head.
“The story as to how I caught Cardinal Newman [Vanity Fair, 20 January 1877] might interest you. It was necessary for me to go down to the Oratory at Birmingham to see the Cardinal, and I arranged with an old schoolfellow who lived just outside the city of screws, to spend a week with him, and call on my respected subject whilst there. Strange to say, when I got to Euston, the very first man I saw on the platform was the Cardinal himself, who was going down by train. I followed him about, and, though he may never know it, I say at the same table as he did in the refreshment room to which he had gone before starting.
“I went on to my friend’s at Birmingham, and still wanting one or two details, I called at the Oratory one day and inquired what time the reverend father would be going out, as I should like to catch a sight of one I so greatly admired. They told me he had a cold that day, but he might possibly be going out on the morrow. The next day, which was my last, found me waiting, but as nobody came out, I determined to call again. I did.
“’I think the Cardinal will see you,’ said the attendant. ‘I will go up and ask him.’ And do you know, sir, I felt so terribly nervous at the thought of deceiving him, and so fearful that my excuses for calling would not warrant my disturbing the one I wanted to see, that I do not know to this day what message was brought back by the attendant. As soon as he left me I opened the door and quietly bolted!”
Dan Leno caricatured by Alfred Bryan for the actor’s autobiography, ‘Dan Leno, Hys Books’
Another well known caricaturist is “A.B.,” which stands for Mr Alfred Bryan, and amongst all his brother cartoonists “A.B.” is held up as the kindest-hearted man in the profession. He is thirty-six years of age, with hair just turning grey and a fair moustache. He “pencils” in the precincts of Chancery Lane, and you may see his initials attached to the principal cartoon in ‘Moonshine.’ They also appear in the [weekly theatrical review] Entr’acte, Judy [a rival to Punch], and Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. He always does the Christmas cartoon for the World.
“A good cartoon costs about £20,” said “A.B.”; “that is, with the engraving as well. I never back a sketch at the theatre, but I keep my eye on the relative angles of the head, and perhaps when I get home jot down one or two ideas to fill in next morning. I take a mental photography, and I don’t like the person is wanted to know I am in the track. Mr Irving, Mr Toole, and Mr Willard are splendid subjects. I have managed to represent Mr Bradlaugh by two strokes and a dot, and tried to tell people who certain folk were intended for merely by showing their collars and their boots. Perhaps a little anecdote will tell you how quickly you can catch your man when in good time.
“Once I was sent down to Bristol to make a sketch of a popular preacher who was going to lecture there. I went down on behalf of a well-known weekly paper. I sent in my card to the wanted one, and he immediately gave me admission.
“’I cannot let you see me,’ he said ‘for purposes of making a sketch. Here you have come all this distance when a post-card would have brought back my answer. No; certainly not. Good-day.’
“But,” said “A.B.,” ”I had him – he was in next week!”