Art Term


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

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.

Explore this term

  • The real comic book heroes

    John Carlin

    William Hogarth was one of the founders of a satire that led all the way to the modern comic book and was described as the grandfather of the political cartoon. John Carlin traces this lineage using American comics first printed in Sunday newspaper supplements 100 years ago, through Krazy Kat and Popeye to the flattened muscular figures of Captain America, Hulk and X-Men.

  • Rudely transgressing the boundaries between the elevated and the profane

    Jonathan Griffin

    The notion of the grotesque in art has been around for centuries, but it is currently being re-imagined, often with humour and a sense of the absurd, by many contemporary artists

  • Who farted?

    Cedar Lewisohn , Brian Griffiths , Paul Gravett and Simon Thorp

    Rude Britannia: British Comic Art:, Tate Britain’s forthcoming exhibition exploring the riotous history of humour in British visual culture over the past three centuries, from Gillray to David Shrigley, is being organised with a team of comic writers and cartoonists, including Harry Hill and Steve Bell. Tate Etc. brings together one of the curators, the co-editor of Viz, an artist and a comic historian to celebrate the genre.

Selected artworks in the collection

Caricature at Tate