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A GENRE OF HIS OWN: MAX BEERBOHM'S TITLE-PAGE CARICATURES By N. John Hall (Bronx Community College and Graduate Center, CUNY) Edmund Wilson has called Max Beerbohm "the greatest caricaturist of the kind--that is, portrayer of personalities-in the history of art."l ¿¡-¡Γ Rupert Hart-Davis thinks him "without equal among British can' caturists."2 Assessments of this kind are of course endlessly debatable, but no one who has looked at even a small part of Max's vast oeuvre fails to be impressed. Unfortunately, the drawings are often difficult to find. The Rupert Hart-Davis Catalogue of the Caricatures of Max Beerbohm lists 2,093 formal or "regular" caricatures, that is, works intended for framing or reproduction. Of these more than 700 are untraced. Only 341 drawings were reproduced in the ten books of caricature that Max published, and these are fairly scarce today. UnIy a relative handful of the caricatures are to be seen in recent books on Beerbohm. Thus his caricatures are by and large inaccessible except to the collector or assiduous museum goer. This presentation publishes for the first time examples of a peculiar kind of caricature, namely drawings of authors on the title pages ot their works, a genre of caricature that Max seems to have invented. These title pages represent the best results of Max's penchant for "improving" books of his own and other people's libraries. The drawings are not to be confused with the carefree d o o dlings with which he sprinkled his letters, manuscripts, and books. Rather, these caricatures, most of them in ink, some in watercolor, are finished works, many of them using to advantage the constraints and typographical details of the page. The size of these drawings (they are reproduced in slightly reduced size) does not in any sense detract from their importance as caricature. Indeed Max insisted that caricature could not abide a large surface. The drawings were made between the early 1090s and the mid 1920s, the years of his great creative activity as caricaturist. A few are dated. The title pages themselves do little toward dating the caricatures beyond providing a time ante quo non. Most of the drawinys are from the Beerbohm collection in the Merton College Library, Oxford. Others are from the collections of Robert H. Taylor, the William Andrews Clark Library, Sir Rupert Hart-Davis, and Mrs. Eva Reichmann.3 Beerbohm frequently insisted that caricature was simply the exaggeration of the physical aspects of the human body: he begins "The Spirit of Caricature" (19Ul) by describing caricature as "the delicious art of exaggerating, without fear or favour, the peculiarities of this or that human body, for the mere sake of exaggerati on."4 of course one must always be alert to Max's irony, and elsewhere in the essay and in his other statements about the nature of caricature we find ideas that go considerably beyond this simple definition. He admitted to E. F. Spence that he hoped to get at the "soul" of a man, but through the body: "When I draw a man, I am 270 271 concerned simply and solely with the physical aspect ot him. . . . [But] I see him in a peculiar way: I see all his salient points exaggerated (points of face, figure, port, gesture and vesture), and all his insignificant points proportionately diminished. . . . In the salient points a man's soul does reveal itself, more or less faintly. . . . It is . . . when (and only when) my own caricatures hit exactly the exteriors of their subjects that they open the interiors, too."5 Discussing "salient points," Beerbohm in the 1901 essay said that the true caricaturist portrays them as they appear to his "distorted gaze," that he exaggerates them "for the mere sake of exaggeration," that he does not even "make conscious aim at exaggeration. He does not say, 1I will go for this "point" or that'. . . . He exaggerates instinctively, unconsciously."6 Whether in fact Max did deliberately aim at certain "points" for exaggeration is problematical. But consciously or not he seems always to isolate and highlight those salient features that somehow get at a man's essence. Ernst Kris and E. H. Gombrich say...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 270-288
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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