1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cartoon

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CARTOON (Ital. cartone, pasteboard), a term used in pictorial art in two senses, (1) In painting, a cartoon is used as a model for a large picture in fresco, oil or tapestry, or for statuary. It was also formerly employed in glass and mosaic work. When cartoons are used in fresco-painting, the back of the design is covered with black-lead or other colouring matter; and, this side of the picture being applied to the wall, the artist passes over the lines of the design with a point, and thus obtains an impression. According to another method the outlines of the figures are pricked with a needle, and the cartoon, being placed against the wall, is “pounced,” i.e. a bag of black colouring-matter is drawn over the perforations, and the outlines are thus transferred to the wall. In fresco-painting, the portions of the cartoon containing figures were formerly cut out and fixed (generally in successive sections) upon the moist plaster. Their contour was then traced with a pointed instrument, and the outlines appeared lightly incised upon the plaster after the portion of the cartoon was withdrawn. In the manufacture of tapestries upon which it is wished to give a representation of the figures of cartoons, these figures are sometimes cut out, and laid behind or under the woof, to guide the operations of the artist. In this case the cartoons are coloured.

Cartoons have been executed by some of the most distinguished masters; the greatest extant performances in this line of art are those of Raphael. They are seven in number, coloured in distemper; and at present they adorn the Victoria and Albert Museum, in South Kensington, having been removed thither from their former home, the palace of Hampton Court. With respect to their merits, they count among the best of Raphael’s productions; Lanzi even pronounces them to be in beauty superior to anything else the world has ever seen. Not that they all present features of perfect loveliness, and limbs of faultless symmetry,—this is far from being the case; but in harmony of design, in the universal adaptation of means to one great end, and in the grasp of soul which they display, they stand among the foremost works of the designing art. The history of these cartoons is curious. Leo X. employed Raphael in designing (in 1515–1516) a series of Scriptural subjects, which were first to be finished in cartoons, and then to be imitated in tapestry by Flemish artists, and used for the decoration of the Sistine Chapel. Two principal sets of tapestries were accordingly executed at Arras in Flanders; but it is supposed that neither Leo nor Raphael lived to see them. The set which went to Rome was twice carried away by invaders, first in 1527 and afterwards in 1798. In the first instance they were restored in a perfect state; but after their return in 1814 one was wanting—the cupidity of a Genoese having induced him to destroy it for the sake of the precious metal which it contained. Authorities differ as to the original number of cartoons, but there appear to have been twenty-five,—some by Raphael himself, assisted by Gianfrancesco Penni, others by the surviving pupils of Raphael. The cartoons after which the tapestries were woven were not, it would seem, restored to Rome, but remained as lumber about the manufactory in Arras till after the revolution of the Low Countries, when seven of them which had escaped destruction were purchased by Charles I., on the recommendation of Rubens. They were found much injured, “holes being pricked in them for the weavers to pounce the outlines, and in other parts they were almost cut through by tracing.” It has never been ascertained what became of the other cartoons. Three tapestries, the cartoons of which by Raphael no longer exist, are in the Vatican,—representing the stoning of St Stephen, the conversion of St Paul, and St Paul in prison at Philippi.

Besides the cartoons of Raphael, two, to which an extraordinary celebrity in art-history attaches, were those executed in competition by Leonardo da Vinci and by Michelangelo—the former named the Battle of the Standard, and the latter the Cartoon of Pisa—soldiers bathing, surprised by the approach of the enemy. Both these great works have perished, but the general design of them has been preserved. In recent times some of the most eminent designers of cartoons have been masters of the German school,—Cornelius, Kaulbach, Steinle, Fuhrich, &c.; indeed, as a general rule, these artists appear to greater advantage in their cartoons than in the completed paintings of the same compositions. In England cartoon-work developed considerably in 1843 and 1844, when a competition was held for the decoration of the new Houses of Parliament. Dyce and Maclise left examples of uncommon mark in this line. The cartoon by Fred. Walker, A.R.A., made to advertise the dramatic version of Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White, is now at the Tate Gallery; and cartoons by Ford Madox Brown are in the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington.  (W. M. R.) 

(2) “Cartoon” is also a term now applied to the large political drawings in the humorous or satirical papers of the day. At an earlier period satirical prints were styled “caricatures,” and were issued separately. Gillray, Rowlandson, the three Cruikshanks, Heath and others were popular favourites in this class of design. Even the insignificant little cuts by Robert Seymour in Figaro in London, the diableries in The Fly, and the vulgar and rancorous political skits identified with the flood of scurrilous little papers of the time, were dignified by the same term. The long series of Political Sketches by “H. B.” (John Doyle) were the first examples of unexaggerated statement, and fair and decorous satire. With the advent of Punch and its various rivals (The Peep-Show, The Great Gun, Diogenes and the like), the general tone was elevated. Punch at first adopted the word “pencilling” to describe the “big cut,” which dealt variously with political and social topics. But when in 1843 there was held in Westminster Hall the great exhibition of “cartoons” from which selection was to be made of designs for the decoration in fresco of the new Houses of Parliament, Punch jocularly professed to range himself alongside the great artists of the day; so that the “mad designe” of the reign of Charles I. became the “cartoon” of that of Queen Victoria. John Leech’s drawing in No. 105 of that journal was the first caricature to be called a cartoon: it was entitled “Substance and Shadow: the Poor ask for Bread, and the Philanthropy of the State accords—an Exhibition.” Later, Punch dropped the word for a while, but the public took it up. Yet the New English Dictionary curiously attributes the first use of it to Miss Braddon in 1863.

In England the cartoon, no longer a weapon of venomous attack, has come to be regarded as a humorous or sarcastic comment upon the topic uppermost in the nation’s mind, a witty or saturnine illustration of views already formed, rather than as an instrument for the manufacture of public opinion. It has almost wholly lost its rancour; it has totally lost its ferocity—the evolutionary result of peace and contentment, for satire in its more violent and more spontaneous form is but the outcome of the dissatisfaction or the rage of the multitude. The cartoon, it is agreed, must be suggestive; it must present a clear idea lucidly and, if possible, laughably worked out; and, however reserved or restrained it may be, or even, when occasion demands (as in the case of Sir John Tenniel and some of his imitators), however epic in intuition, it must always figure, so to say, as a leading article transformed into a picture. (See Caricature and Illustration.)  (M. H. S.)