'A Nuisance dedicated to sanity'
The autumn series of CAT lectures commenced last September with Dr Tim Benson speaking on the world famous cartoonist and caricaturist, Low. David Alexander Cecil Low was born in Dunedin, New Zealand on 7 April 1891.
Self-taught, he progressed from publications in New Zealand and Australia, moving to London in August 1919. He worked for the Evening Star, and became the first political cartoonist, when he joined the conservative Evening Standard in 1927. He developed a distinctive style that has endured to be influential to today's cartoonists. Garland has said, 'Low's ability to capture likeness is uncanny.'
Early in his career Low developed a deep intellectual awareness of all things political. Stanley Baldwin said, 'Low is a genius, but he is evil, I cannot bear Low' Winston Churchill called Low, 'A great master of black and white he is the Charlie Chaplin of caricature.' When he was recruited by Max Beaverbrook to join The Evening Standard, Low insisted that his contract stipulated that he was guaranteed space to produce a half page cartoon, and that he would have complete freedom of subject. This began a period of inexhaustible creativity for Low.
His first celebrated allegorical creation was the two-headed ass that symbolised Lloyd George's coalition government and was an instant success. His greatest comic creation was Colonel Blimp who appeared in 1934 until the 1940's and became a world famous character Blimpery received a dictionary definition to represent an extreme die-hard outlook. The Low carthorse appeared after the war, but was misunderstood.
Low foresaw political developments including the demise of the League of Nations. Most importantly he foresaw the rise of European Fascism. He portrayed Hitler and Mussolini as fools and he ridiculed Chamberlain's policy of appeasement He was not universally accepted hut proved to he prophetic, and his wartime cartoons were particularly memorable and captured the spirit of the period. After the war Low took up the cudgels against Stalinism. He lived through interesting and momentous times and his cartoons remain a significant pointer of history. At the time it was produced, his work captured people's imagination and opinion. Beaverbrook considered him to be a draughtsman and artist of renown, but mostly wrong in his viewpoint.
He produced over 14,000 drawings in a career spanning 50 years, and was knighted in 1962 and died on 19 September 1963, aged 73 years. Today, Low's images and visual legacy are an invaluable guide to the 20th century.
Dr Benson showed examples that will appear in The Political Cartoon Society's exhibition of Low's work this year in May at Westminster Hall. These included cartoons of Stalinist purges; the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the League of Nations' failure to deal with the problem; and 'All behind you Winston', one of Low's most memorable cartoons on the formation of a national unity government. (This followed Churchill's famous 'blood, sweat, toil and tears' speech and the cartoon was described by Churchill as 'Low's greatest'. ) 'Imperial welcome' was the first cartoon to attack racial segregation; it was prompted by an incident when Learie Constantine, the black cricketer, was refused entry to a London hotel. Constantine later became Britain's first black peer.
The talk concluded with slides of Low's New Statesman caricatures which included: David Lloyd George, Ramsey MacDonald, Winston Churchill whom Low described as 'that sandy type which cannot be rendered properly in black lines', Austin Chamberlain, J. B. Thomas (Labour Colonial Secretary) and Max Beaverbrook. The latter caricarture being described by the historian A.J.P. Taylor as 'the best likeness of Lord Beaverhrook showing him to he rather small'.
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