Caricature of Sir Frederick Ponsonby, c. 1920s
Francis Derwent Wood RA (1871 - 1926)
RA Collection: Art
These caricature portrait sketches by the sculptor Francis Derwent Wood were mostly carried out between 1919 and 1923. They were presented to the Academy by the artist's widow in 1945 and a note kept with the drawings reveals that Derwent Wood made most of the caricatures at "Royal Academy banquets and Chelsea Arts Club dinners".
In his History of Caricature, Bohun Lynch described this group, on display in London during the 1920s, remarking; 'It must have come with a great surprise to admirers of the late Derwent Wood, R.A., for all his versatility, to find...that in odd moments he had made a large number of shrewd caricatures. There, amongst signs of manifold activities, sculptures, landscapes, studies from the nude, architectural designs, are a few framed and a large number of merely mounted drawings of various friends and notabilities. They are made upon odd scraps of paper, upon envelopes and so forth. Most of them were drawn at dinner-parties and consist of pencil sketches, tinted here and there, with a drop of port wine smudged on with a finger. In one case, a victim is given an actual buttonhole of a leaf of smilax from the table decorations, and thrust through a little slit in the paper. They are eminently the caricatures of an accomplished and academic artist. That is to say, that while the likeness to the individual is sometimes grievously at fault the actual line, hastily scribbled, has that deft assurance, that spontaneity, that meaning, which can only come of long practice and great accomplishment in a more deliberate manner. There is Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, and Mr. Edmund J. Sulllivan, that genius of black and white drawing, looking dour and discontented; Mr Charles Ricketts, seriously serene; Sir Frederick Ponsonby and Mr. Fiddes Watt. They are only jokes, eked out with a felicitous dexterity by such pigments and accessories as the dinner table afforded. But they must have been great fun to do, just as they provide great fun to look at.'
Derwent Wood's caricatures were rapidly sketched on letter paper, envelopes and other scraps. However, most of them are not quite as spontaneous as Bohun suggests in that they are drawn with chalks and crayons, pen and ink and other materials that the artist apparently carried around with him for the purpose rather than simply making do with what he found on the table at RA banquets and Chelsea Arts Club dinners. The caricatures may be flippant in character, yet they were carefully mounted - apparently by the artist - and kept together as a group. It is possible that, presented in their wash-line mounts, these humorous sketches were partially intended to mimic George Dance's famous 'heads', produced at the end of the 18th-century and kept in the Royal Academy Library. Like Dance, Derwent Wood drew a large number of his fellow Academicians as well as other public figures, including politicians, clergymen, connoisseurs and aristocrats.
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