Six sketches for cartoons for Punch magazine, c. 1850s
John Leech (1817 - 1864)
RA Collection: Art
Most of the drawings in this group have been identified as John Leech's sketches for Punch magazine cartoons, carried out between the late 1840s and the early 1860s. The rest of the sketches are also likely to relate to Leech's work for Punch but it is possible that some were for other publications to which he contributed such as Once a Week and the Illustrated London News.
Many of the drawings relate to current affairs. Punch magazine, at this time, was very much supportive of the British establishment and Leech's characterisation of certain groups, both in political and more light-hearted images, played on and re-inforced negative racial stereotypes. These drawings, for instance, include such imagery relating to the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Irish nationalism and Jewish MPs.
Some of Leech's less politically-charged subjects are also represented here. Several cartoons satirise polite society while there are also sketches making fun of contemporary male and female fashions. One drawing depicts organ grinders and relates to the artist's intolerance of urban noise.
Leech was born in London and studied medicine at St Bartholemew's hospital but after his father was declared bankrupt in 1830 he began to sell sketches and cartoons for extra income. As a medic, Leech studied anatomical drawing but he had no formal training as an artist and his drawings are typified by a lively, almost frenetic, style. Leech built up a successful career as a cartoonist and illustrator and remains best known for the work he produced for Punch magazine. He was a friend of many artists and writers of the day including John Everett Millais, William Thackeray and Charles Dickens.
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