Front page of 1850 Royal Academy exhibition catalogue with drawings, 1850
Richard Doyle (1824 - 1883)
RA Collection: Art
Almost every page of this catalogue of the 1850 Royal Academy annual exhibition has been filled with playful pen and ink sketches by the cartoonist Richard Doyle. Many of the drawings are puns, caricatures, parodies or flights of fancy based on either the works of art exhibited, their titles or the names of the artists listed. Certain caricatures possibly also depict other visitors to the exhibition.
Doyle, also known as Dick Kitcat, was the son of the Irish artist and cartoonist John Doyle (or HB) and the uncle of the author Arthur Conan Doyle. Richard showed a precocious talent for humorous and fanciful drawings but his father is said to have discouraged him from pursuing 'Nonsense' subjects. He was in demand as an illustrator from an early age and was a regular contributor to Punch by the time he was nineteen. However, in 1850 he resigned from the magazine as a protest against its publication of articles criticizing the Pope and the Roman Catholic church and this had a detrimental effect on his career.
Through Punch and his many commissions to illustrate books, Doyle met and befriended important artists and writers of the day including William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens, John Leech and William Holman Hunt. The sketches in this volume include a gentle parody of one of Hunt's paintings, 'A converted British family sheltering a priest from the persecution of the druids' and a caricature possibly depicting his friend Thackeray. In his work for Punch, Doyle filled the borders of the magazine's pages with fairies, dragons, elves and other whimsical or exotic figures, for which his colleagues nicknamed him 'The Professor of Medieval Design'. The sketches in the borders of this Royal Academy catalogue are very similar to those he produced for Punch and certainly share a common ground with the marginalia found in illuminated medieval manuscripts. Doyle's entry in the Dictionary of National Biography described him as 'the kindliest of pictorial satirists, the most sportive and frolicsome of designers, the most graceful and sympathetic limners of fairyland. In Oberon's Court he would at once have been appointed sergeant-painter'.
Although he is best-known for his fairy subjects, Doyle's published work also included caricatures and parodies of modern life and he often combined the two interests, as in the drawings filling this volume. He lampooned the art world on several occasions, taking a particular interest in the Royal Academy. In 1848 Doyle wrote an article for Punch (13th May) entitled 'High Art and the Royal Academy' from the point of view of an artist whose work had been rejected from the RA annual exhibition (there are also drawings on this theme on the title page of this book). The Academy exhibition was also the subject of one of his caricatures, no. 11 in his Manners and Customs of the English series, 'Ye Exhibition at Ye Royal Academy' (1849).
Some of Doyle's sketches in this catalogue are inspired by the works he saw in the exhibition or by their titles, notably a drawing after Millais's 'Ferdinand Lured by Ariel'. The pages also include many lightly comical portrait caricatures. Some of these have been identified and include Queen Victoria, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Francis Grant P.R.A. Other caricatures possibly depict Thackeray, Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Maclise. Doyle also included several puns on the names of painters, including obvious targets likeWilliam Dance and Augustus Egg. In addition to these parodies and caricatures are many fanciful sketches that are apparently unrelated to the text of the catalogue. Some of these are of fairies and 'oriental' subjects but there are also recurring themes such as hunting and 'topsy-turvy' encounters in the animal kingdom, including a sketch of some geese terrorising a dog.
At the time he filled this catalogue with sketches, Doyle was still working at Punch as he did not resign from the magazine until late November. He probably visited the Royal Academy exhibition soon after its opening in May and would have recently finished his illustrations to Thackeray's Rebecca and Rowena - A Romance Upon Romance. In 1850 he was also working on commissions for the Dalziel brothers including Sleeping Beauty (not published until 1865 as An old fairy tale told anew) as well as the illustrations to John Ruskin's The King of the Golden River (London, 1851). Doyle presumably carried out the drawings in this catalogue for his own entertainment, or for a member of his family, as it was still in his possession when he died in 1883.
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