The London-based Cartoon Museum‘s latest exhibition – Bring Me Laughter – is in full swing at the moment, and this terrific extravaganza there reminds me to mention that the venue’s web site (www.cartoonmuseum.org) has been totally revamped and much improved over its previous incarnation.
The new site offers much better navigation and highlights not only this current exhibition but its educational projects, including upcoming half term workshops in February which offer the chance for children to create a Beano cover, draw manga and superheroes – and create their own mini comics.
The revamp also, of course, promotes Bring Me Laughter: The Cartoons and Caricatures from the collection of George & Pat Walker, which runs at the Museum until 24th February, featuring the cartoons and caricatures collected by George and Pat Walker over sixty years.
‘The fever of collecting is no respecter of persons,” says George. “It can strike anybody though it be wildly beyond their means, and it can be caught in a variety of ways. It may well last a lifetime because there is no cure.”
In the case of the Walkers, their collection fever offers us over 60 pictures includes works by some of the leading humorous artists of the last hundred and fifty years. It ranges from sensitive drawings by Charles Keene to striking caricatures by Max Beerbohm and Jonathan Cusick.
There are jokes on artistic and royal themes, political cartoons and social observations as well as telling moments from World War Two by Leslie Illingworth and E. H. Shepard. The exhibition also includes a small selection of cartoons and drawings by George Walker himself, who lives in Banbury.
Born in 1918, the son of a collier, in Great Clifton, a Cumbrian mining village, George Walker trained as a metallurgist and chemist, but never lost his early interest in the visual arts.
“As a boy, my main interests were in art and the cinema,” he says, “stirring from my father the trenchant summary, ‘He thinks about nowt but actin’ and paintin’.’
“It all started, of course, with a love of drawings – enchantment is a better word – kindled by reproductions in a school art prize. They were mostly of works by Old Masters, but unexpectedly included sensitive drawings from the life by such as Phil May.
“This fascination with drawing, be it expressed in the work of old masters such as Guercino or Boucher, modern masters such as Paul Nash or Graham Sutherland, or ‘commercial’ artists such as Phil May, Heath Robinson and Ronald Searle, has shaped the Walkers’ collection from its earliest years.
As a schoolboy George sketched from life, produced caricatures of friends and teachers and designed posters for school productions. He recalls his first visit to Leeds City Art Gallery, where he encountered a room full of Phil Mays and vowed that one day he too would own one. When George left school at seventeen to start work at a local factory, one of his teachers encouraged him to take art classes at the Carlisle College of Art, where he studied in his free time for several years.
After the war, as soon as they had the means, George and his wife Pat began exploring the world of drawings through visits to galleries, dealers and auction houses. Their collections of Old Master drawings and cartoons progressed in tandem, inspiring George’s own creative output. He drew and painted landscapes and portraits and produced cartoons for magazines and books. Selling exhibitions of his work helped fund his new purchases.
Now in his 96th year, George feels vindicated in the increasing attention which cartoon art has attracted in recent years: ‘There is some satisfaction also in always having admired so-called “commercial” art, for so long considered greatly inferior to “fine art” and now commanding the respect that the best of it deserves.’
George and Pat’s collection is not yet complete. Occasionally a drawing by a favourite artist has been surrendered in pursuit of another, leaving a gap which still remains to be filled. The fever of collecting is indeed a lifelong obsession.
• Bring Me Laughter: Cartoons and Caricatures from the collection of George & Pat Walker runs until 23rd February 2014 at the The Cartoon Museum, 35 Little Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1A 2HH. The Museum is open Monday to Saturday 10.30am – 5.30pm | Sunday 12 noon -5.30pm. Admission to the exhibition is included with entry ticket to the main museum galleries: Adult £7, concession £5. Web: www.cartoonmuseum.org. Tel: 020 7580 8155 Twitter: @cartoonmuseumuk