We use cookies to improve your experience online. By using our website, you agree to the use of cookies as described in our cookies policy.
John Leech, Sketch for a Punch magazine cartoon, 'Too "Civil" by Half'

Sketch for a Punch magazine cartoon, 'Too "Civil" by Half', 1857

John Leech (1817 - 1864)

RA Collection: Art

This object contains visual material that may be upsetting or offensive. Where possible, we are in the process of providing additional information about the object to contextualise its content, production and meaning in the society and era in which it was created. We continuously work to improve the documentation and presentation of our online Collections. If you have any comments or additional information about the object/object record, please contact us at library@royalacademy.org.uk.

The sketch on the recto of this sheet is one of Leech's preparatory drawings for his Punch magazine cartoons, some of which - including this example - used and promoted racist imagery.

On the recto is a pencil sketch for the cartoon 'Too "Civil" by Half' published in Punch. The cartoon relates to the Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the exploitative rule of the British East India Company. It shows a British soldier threatening an Indian 'sepoy', with a bayonet, while the Governor General of India, Viscount Canning (later Viceroy), steps in to save the Indian soldier. Nicknamed 'Clemency Canning', he was heavily criticised in the British press which considered his approach to the situation too diplomatic. Here, he is shown holding a baton marked "Proclamation", refering to the law passed in 1858 that brought India directly under the rule of the British Crown.

The published version of the cartoon features an ironic explanation below stating that the scene depicts "The Governor-General Defending the POOR Sepoy". It also shows Canning wearing a crown, probably in reference to accusations that he was granted the appointment in India as a favour by Queen Victoria. More significantly, it also features the addition of two murdered children in front of the Indian soldier. The published cartoon can be seen here https:// punch.photoshelter.com/image/ I0000d6iybdQjuxc

At the top of the page, outside the border of the cartoon are sketches of a dog chasing a child and a naive drawing of a bird. On the verso are further drawings relating to Punch cartoons. Within a rectangular border, at the bottom of the page, is a sketch for a cartoon showing Mr Punch addressing the flamboyant French conductor and director of the Drury Lane Theatre in London, Louis Jullien. The title seems to be "Verb. Sap.", a Latin abbreviation meaning 'a word to the wise is enough'. Mr Punch also informs Jullien that he is "a clever fellow in his way" but that the "British lion...isn't a Poodle...at your bidding".

Jullien was frequently ridiculed in Punch but it is not known if this particular cartoon was ever published. The reference to the "British lion" ties in with other descriptions and depictions of the conductor in Punch which often involved animals. 'Jullien's Audience in Rainy Weather' (Punch, 1847) for instance, describes the animals that comprised the 'chief audience' of his musical concerts at the Surrey Zoological Gardens. This article noted the 'malicious opposition from the beasts towards the band', including the hyena's struggle to 'laugh down the piccolo'. Another report, 'Jullien Seen in a Moment of Inspiration' (Punch, 1850) compared the conductor with a hippopotamus and suggested that he had taught the animals at the Zoological Gardens how to dance. In 1855, Punch also noted: 'We have been rather startled by the announcement of the intended Sale by Auction of our old friends the animals, who have for some years formed a feature, or rather a collection of very formidable features, at the Surrey Zoological Gardens. We understand that this step has been decided on, in consequence of the superior attraction of the Concerts, for it is felt that not even the lion stands a chance of popularity by the side of such an unrivalled lion as the MONS. JULLIEN.' Jullien died in 1860 and this drawing probably dates from the late 1850s.

At the other end of the sheet, reversed, is another sketch for a cartoon, apparently a fox hunting scene.

Further Reading:

Graeme Harper, Comedy, Fantasy and Colonialism, London 2002

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.

All objects in this group

Object details

Sketch for a Punch magazine cartoon, 'Too "Civil" by Half'
John Leech (1817 - 1864)
Object type
Pencil on wove paper

338 mm x 248 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number


Sketch for a Punch cartoon entitled 'Too "Civil" By Half'
John Leech (1817 - 1864)


Sketch for a caricature of 'Mr Punch' and Monsieur Jullien
John Leech (1817 - 1864)
before 1860
return to start

Start exploring the RA Collection

read more
  • Explore art works, paint-smeared palettes, scribbled letters and more...
  • Artists and architects have run the RA for 250 years.
    Our Collection is a record of them.
Start exploring