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Ralph Steadman, The Cartoon MuseumA bit slow to catch up on this one for various reasons, I’m normally speedier with the Cartoon Museum, one of my favourite galleries.

This show has been on for a few months already. It celebrates the life work of cartoonist and illustrator, Ralph Steadman, who is 77 and still going strong. He is best known, possibly, for his collaboration with Hunter S Thompson and American work from the late 60s onwards. This stuff is mostly very angry and genuinely disturbing. Brilliant, but I shan’t dwell on them here.

Elsewhere, there are large colour poster items on political themes which are superbly executed. You may remember the one of policemen whose heads are revolvers.

But this being London Historians, I’d like to tell you about his London work from the early to late 60s. Some Private Eye stuff early on, and we have some excellent Hogarth homages, bringing up-to-date Marriage à-la-mode, and  Taste in High Life (1 and 2). We then move on to New London Street Cries, following Paul Sandby and Thomas Rowlandson, except this time featuring a cabbie, a Soho pimp, etc.

Ralph Steadman, Cartoon Museum

New London Cries No. 1, Private Eye, 12 November 1965. © Ralph Steadman

Ralph Steadman. The Cartoon Museum

New London Cries No. 9, Private Eye, 4 February 1966. © Ralph Steadman

Steadman was still a youngish man during this time, but it’s clear that not only does he not embrace the brave new world of the so-called Swinging Sixties, he actively disapproves of the collective foolishness; he observes, he doesn’t participate. It is not affectionate ribbing: he casts a jaundiced eye and then renders with a viscious pen. Hilarious.

There is a wonderful picture from 1967 featuring the newly-opened Playboy club in London. It’s about “the man who touched he girl at the Playboy club” while all around are agasp and swooning. Steadman had nurtured a friendship with the elderly H.E. Bateman around this time; they had drawing sessions together.

Nearby in the room are commissions for a new 1972 publication of Through the Looking Glass. You can plainly see that Steadman has put heart and soul into these, they are quite exquisite and in my opinion the best work in the exhibition. The draftsmanship is breathtaking. The example below at 500px gives you an idea, but you really need to see the real thing. I think he bests Tenniel, how about you?

Ralph Steadman, Cartoon Museum

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, 1972. © Ralph Steadman

The thing about cartoon artwork is that it is mostly privately-owned. Virtually every piece in this show is labelled “Private Collection” and this is true of most shows at the Cartoon Museum, so you only get one go at seeing them in the original. Try not to miss these.

STEADman@77 ends on 8 September.

Entry is £5. £4 to London Historians members. Free to Friends of the Cartoon Museum and Art Pass (The Art Fund card).

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