A new exhibition featuring four centuries of political cartoons opens today in the Library of Trinity College Dublin and runs throughout June and July 2019. Drawing your attention: Four Centuries of Political Caricature includes the Library’s own collections, with originals from its extensive 18th- and 19th-century collection gifted by Nicholas Robinson, alumnus, writer, lawyer and former cartoonist. The contemporary works in the exhibition are on loan from freelance artist Martyn Turner who is best associated with The Irish Times.
Full of symbolism and allegory, caricatures played an important role in amusing the public and influencing political opinion in the 18th and 19th centuries. Works by artists such as George Cruikshank and James Gillray continue to influence cartoonists and others creators in the ‘ninth art’ of comics and caricatures today.
The exhibition highlights six main themes in politics: Trade Relations, Gender Disparity, Political Reform, International Alliances, Politics and Law, and Political Treachery. It draws attention to the artistry involved in the creation of the caricature. In the Martyn Turner pieces, for example, one can see the pencil marks underneath the final ink drawings, demonstrating the development of a cartoon. In the earlier caricatures, one can see the duplication of a caricature or concept for different political purposes. And throughout, reference to other art forms and motifs gives the caricatures depth and a greater meaning, in a medium that uses few words. Most importantly, the exhibition is intended to have resonance with all visitors – the themes and imagery presented across centuries are universally understood: it is this that makes the art of caricature continue to have relevance and popularity.
Highlights from the exhibition include:
‘The Lobby of the House of Commons, 1886’, Vanity Fair, 30 November 1886
Men only: A coloured print of Liborio Prosperi’s oil on canvas from 1886 – the same year a proposal in the US Senate to grant voting rights for women was defeated by a ratio of 2:1. Equal voting rights for Irish women passed into law in 1922.
William Elmes’ John Bull Reading the Extraordinary Red Book, London: Thomas Tegg, 
[image top right] This is one of many satires on the misuse of government money in the 19th century. It shows the classic personification of the English nation, John Bull, reacting angrily to the £453,692 expenditure and pensions paid to individuals the government wished to bribe, reward or buy, as exposed in the ground-breaking publication of 1816, The Extraordinary Red Book.
John Tenniel’s ‘Dropping the Pilot’ Punch, 29 March 1890
John Tenniel replaced talented caricaturist Richard Doyle at Punch in 1850. This double-page cut on the Kaiser’s dismissal of Bismarck in 1889 is perhaps his most famous work. Tenniel’s obituary in The Times 3 March 1914 suggested ‘his political cartoons would be as fresh fifty or a hundred years hence as they were on the day of publication’.
As well as the display in the Long Room of the Old Library, an extension of the exhibition is running in the Berkeley Library with framed reproductions of Martyn Turner’s work as well as a digital slideshow.
The exhibition in the Berkeley Library also includes a digital selection drawn from the Library’s Robinson Collection of political and social caricatures.
Trinity College Dublin is very grateful to Nicholas Robinson for his generosity and to Martyn Turner for lending his original works. An online version of the exhibition will launch in the coming weeks.