The exhibition explores caricature and satire in its many forms from the Italian Renaissance to the present, drawn primarily from the rich collection of this material in the Museum's Department of Drawings and Prints. The show includes drawings and prints by Leonardo da Vinci, Eugène Delacroix, Francisco de Goya, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Enrique Chagoya alongside works by artists more often associated with humor, such as James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson, Honoré Daumier, Al Hirschfeld, and David Levine.Many of these engaging caricatures and satires have never been exhibited and are little known except to specialists.
In its purest form, caricature—from the Italian carico and caricare, "to load" and "to exaggerate"—distorts human physical characteristics and can be combined with various kinds of satire to convey personal, social, or political meaning. Although caricature has probably existed since artists began to draw (ancient examples are known), the form took shape in Europe when Leonardo da Vinci's drawings of grotesque heads were copied by followers and distributed as prints.
The exhibition's title derives from Hamlet, which is quoted in a Civil War print that uses the famous line: "I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest" to mock Lincoln. The show will be divided into four sections and will begin by exploring the building blocks of caricature, a genre that artists employed through the centuries, exaggerating faces and physiques, showing people as animals and objects, and displaying humorous figures in processions.
In the seventeenth century, Gian Lorenzo Bernini entertained European monarchs with caricatures, and the form was also taken up by Guercino, Pier Leone Ghezzi, and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Highlights of this section will include Leonardo da Vinci's Head of a Man in Profile, Facing Left, together with caricature drawings by Tiepolo and Francois-André Vincent, as well as a rich range of prints by Louis Léopold Boilly, Thomas Rowlandson, James Gillray, and even Nadar, who was an active caricaturist.
The second section of the exhibition will explore social satire expressed in works devoted to eating and drinking, gambling, male and female fashion, art, and crowds. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are known as the golden age of caricature and satire, with William Hogarth, Gillray, Rowlandson, and George Cruikshank producing lively examples in Britain, and Honoré Daumier and Boilly doing the same in France. These artists cleverly inserted recognizable caricatures into satirical frameworks to mock contemporary society. Extreme fashion provided satirists with an ever-changing source of humor beginning in the 1760s and a selection of sartorial caricatures will be on view.
Politics will be the focus of the exhibition's third section, featuring prints produced in response to the American and French revolutions, to Napoleon's conquest of Europe, and to French, Mexican, and American politics of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including the American Civil War. Rare anonymous satires produced in France when censorship eased in the 1790s will be on view, accompanied by famous designs by Gillray and Daumier. Striking designs by such unexpected caricaturists as the French romantic painter Eugène Delacroix will also be included.
The exhibition will end with a group of caricatures of notable people from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century. Contemporary images in the exhibition will include Al Hirschfeld's Americans in Paris from 1951, depicting a lively crowd at the Café de la Paix that includes the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, Alice B. Toklas, Ernest Hemingway, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Hirschfeld himself with his wife, the actress Dolly Haas, in sunglasses, and their young daughter Nina. The most recent piece in the exhibition will be Enrique Chagoya's The Headache, A Print after George Cruikshank from 2010, in which Chagoya adapted an eighteenth-century print by Cruikshank called The Head Ache to include President Obama's face as a statement about the country's recent debates on health care.
Accompanied by a catalogue.