Hamon presents Vanity Fair caricatures

Jerry Bywaters, famous for the landscapes and still lifes that would help define Lone Star Regionalism, enjoyed a different artistic life as an SMU student: He drew cartoons for the Hilltop humor magazine The Crimson Colt, which he also founded and edited. His devotion to humor in art carried over into the caricatures he collected from old British Vanity Fair magazines.

Those words and images found their way into SMU’s Jerry Bywaters Collection and now have become the heart of a new Hamon Arts Library exhibition. “The Art of the Caricature: Prints from Vanity Fair, 1869-1900” runs through April 29 in the Hamon’s Mildred Hawn Gallery, featuring 40 full-page examples of Victorian and Edwardian caricature from the British weekly.

“Once these caricatures gained popularity with the British public, most of the celebrities portrayed overcame their reluctance and accepted them as having some cachet,” says guest curator Beverly Mitchell.

Some of the magazine’s targets achieved lasting fame, either through accomplishment or through accident of history; others, their heyday long forgotten, have won a measure of immortality through their printed parodies. One subject, actor Henry Irving, has another connection to SMU: His stage makeup kit has been part of the McCord/Renshaw Theatre Collection since the 1940s and is displayed next to his caricature.

Artists Carlo Pellegrini and Sir Leslie Ward, under the pen names APE and SPY, created many of the drawings – whimsical yet elegant portraits of socialites, politicians and other “men of the day” such as artists Frederic Leighton and Thomas Nast, novelist Emile Zola and Russian tsar Alexander III. The small handful of women profiled included scientist Marie Curie (depicted with her husband, Pierre) and Georgina Weldon, who earned notoriety by acting as her own divorce lawyer after her husband tried to have her declared legally insane.

Founder and editor Thomas Gibson Bowles provided the accompanying tongue-in-cheek biographies under his own pseudonym, “Jehu Junior.” As Vanity Fair’s own name suggests, Bowles had a fondness for skewering celebrity that shows through, Mitchell says. “He took a special interest in selecting these caricatures, and therefore the prints and text do tend to reflect his point of view.”

The exhibit is free and open to the public. The Hamon is open from 8 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday from  9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday from 1 p.m. to midnight.

This story is excerpted from the upcoming Spring 2007 issue of Annotations, published twice a year by the Central University Libraries. Visit the Hamon Arts Library online.

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