Three sketches for cartoons (recto) and two sketches for cartoons (verso), 1858
John Leech (1817 - 1864)
RA Collection: Art
On the recto is a sketch for a cartoon entitled 'Did You Ever!' which was published in Punch in 1858 (issue 34, p. 132). The cartoon refers to the solar eclipse of March 1858 which generated much interest in the press regarding scientific observation of the event and its effects on the weather and the environment. The boy sitting on the sofa on the left, reads aloud from the paper that the eclipse was said to "bring a most extraordinary effect on the inferior animals", warning his aunt and sisters that "you and the girls had better watch out for squalls".
At the other end of the sheet, reversed, are two further sketches for cartoons within rectangular borders. On the verso is a large sketch for a cartoon depicting two well-dressed men having a conversation next to a horse-drawn carriage. The caption below indicates that the man on the right, "Jules", is the subject of the joke. He "affects English manners" and declares that he is about to "make a promenade" in his "To [?] car" which "interpreted means Jules is going...in his dog cart". Punch frequently published cartoons satirising both foreigners and British "customs and manners". This cartoon unites the two but it is not clear if it was ever used.
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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