This new exhibition at the Cartoon Museum opens today. It runs for just one month until 20 March. Les Très Riches Heures de Mrs Mole features a series of 47 pen, ink and watercolour illustrations by legendary British cartoonist Ronald Searle, now in his 90s. Last year the museum held a superb Searle retrospective featuring his commercial output (St Trinians, Adrian Mole, reportage, etc.). This show is entirely different. The images were created privately for his wife (“Mrs Mole”) when she was suffering and recovering from cancer in the late 1960s and early 70s. This is the first time they have been shown in public.
The setting is rural France, where the Searles had recently moved and where they live to this day. Each image is slightly larger than a regular post-card. They feature Mrs Mole doing all the things she loved best in very much a rural domestic environment, and given her fragile condition, these must have been limited much of the time: reading, embroidering, gathering flowers, decorating the Christmas tree, swimming, playing badminton and ping-pong. Mr Mole himself appears hardly at all, you occasionally see his feet encroaching from the side, that sort of thing.
Of course, the pictures are exquisite. They are full of love, deeply moving and had me manfully blinking itchy tear ducts on several occasions. Best of all, they most certainly helped the healing process. On diagnosis of a virulent strain of breast cancer, Monica Searle was given six months to live: forty years later, she is still with us.
Update: Sadly, Monica Searle died in July 2011.
Update II: Ronald Searle died on 30 December 2011. Often happens with devoted, elderly couples. RIP to the both of them. Obituary.
A percentage of proceeds from this exhibition goes to cancer charities.