A caricature is a painting, or more usually drawing, of a person or thing in which the features and form have been distorted and exaggerated in order to mock or satirise the subject

1 of 3
  • Thomas Rowlandson, 'Queen Anne's Bounty: Triplets' date not known
    Thomas Rowlandson
    Queen Anne's Bounty: Triplets date not known
    Pencil, pen and ink and watercolour on paper
    support: 179 x 121 mm
    Purchased as part of the Oppé Collection with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1996
  • William Hogarth, 'O the Roast Beef of Old England ('The Gate of Calais')' 1748
    William Hogarth
    O the Roast Beef of Old England ('The Gate of Calais') 1748
    Oil on canvas
    support: 788 x 945 mm
    frame: 1072 x 1228 x 105 mm
    Presented by the Duke of Westminster 1895
  • Sir Max Beerbohm, 'The New English Art Club' 1907
    Sir Max Beerbohm
    The New English Art Club 1907
    Pencil, pen and ink and watercolour on paper
    support: 343 x 419 mm
    Purchased 1952© The estate of Max Beerbohm

The term is originally Italian, ‘caricatura’, and caricature appeared in Italian art about 1600 in the work of Annibale Carracci. The word caricature is first recorded in English in 1748, the year, as it happens, that William Hogarth painted his great anti-French satire O the Roast Beef of Old England which includes caricatures of a French monk and French soldiers. Hogarth made extensive use of caricature and it became widespread in Britain thereafter.

A practitioner of genius in the later eighteenth century and early nineteenth century was James Gillray, who used it for political cartooning, a form of caricature that continues to appear every day in our newspapers. Equally gifted was his contemporary Thomas Rowlandson who produced brilliant caricatures of the manners and morals of the time. Max Beerbohm was an outstanding caricaturist in the nineteenth century, and Gerald Scarfe is one of the most powerful working today.