Ronald Searle’s art collected – in Germany

Fans of Ronald Searle, the doyen of the cartoon, who died recently, might want to check out the German Museum of Caricature and Drawing (Deutsches Museum fürKarikatur und Zeichenkunst), where much of his work is held.

Searle died on 30 December 2011 in Draguignan, Provence, aged 91, leaving an incredible legacy of amazing art that spanned seven decades, including cartoons, illustrations, reportage drawings, commercial graphics and animation – a unique life’s work of established international reputation.

His distinctive, masterful stroke, combined with British humour, rich knowledge, an unflagging curiosity and imagination and a deep humanity made him one of the most influential cartoonists of his time.

Cat Art by Ronald Searle
Image courtesy German Museum of Caricature and Drawing

Searle’s work has been on permanent loan to the German Museum of Caricature and Drawing from the Foundation of Lower Saxony, Museum Wilhelm Busch for some time and staff there are mourning the loss of a great artist and a good friend.

Born in Cambridge, England in 1920, Ronald Searle had already published his first cartoons in the Cambridge Daily News by the age of 15. In  1938 he began a scholarship to study at the Cambridge School of Art, but a year later he was drafted into the British Army and in 1942 sent to the war effort in the Far East. His experiences as a young soldier in Japanese captivity during World War Searle influenced not only him: drawing the Thai jungle was, for him, a survival strategy. His experiences gave him a deep understanding of human nature, which shows in all his work.

After his return from captivity Ronald Searle’s cartoons were soon gracing the pages of satirical magazine Punch – especially his stories about the schoolgirls of St. Trinian’s, one of Britain’s best-known cartoon creations outside of The Beano. His reportage drawings of travels through Europe, the Middle East or the Americas in the 1960s made him internationally known and his animation work opened doors in Hollywood. In his great cycles of paintings of the 1970s and 1980s, animals, especially cats, played a central role, offering an enjoyable bestiary with human behaviour.

At the age of 75, Searle took the offer of the French daily newspaper Le Monde, who published his work for for 13 years, drawing regular political cartoons, with the issues of war and power often providing the subject matter.

Ronald Searle was first married to journalist and editor Kaye Webb and had two children, twins Kate and John.

In 1961 he moved to Paris and married his second wife, the artist and stage designer Monica Koenig Stirling, in 1967. From 1977 to Monica and Ronald lived in Tour in Southern France. Monica died in July 2011.

Contact between the German Museum of Caricature and Drawing and Ronald Searle go back to the year 1963, when the artist’s drawings were first presented in an exhibition on the satirical British magazine Punch. Following solo exhibitions in 1965 and 1976 – as well as various acquisitions of some drawings by the artist – the Museum hosted a major exhibition in 1996, which also covered the biography and personal life: his time of the Japanese prisoner of war as well as traveling with his wife Monica and their friendship with artists from different countries. In addition, Searle provided this exhibition with a selection of works from his own collection of historical cartoons as an expert on the history of his own art.

In 1996 and 1998, with the support of Rudolf Ensmann, a longtime patron of the museum, and Depfa Bank (now Aarealbank) Wiesbaden the Museum acquired, in two stages, Searle’s entire collection of vintage cartoon – and his library on the history and theory of the cartoon. At the same time gave Searle already a large part of his archive at the Hanover Museum.

Prior to the preparation of a exhibition on the ninetieth birthday of Ronald Searle in 2010, the possibility of taking over the whole of archive of more than 2000 drawings arose: and with that, the work of an English artist, living in France now looked toward the Hanover Museum as being his spiritual home.

In December 2010, the Foundation of Lower Saxony backed the purchase, with the support of the Cultural Foundation of the countries of Lower Saxony and other backers, and Searle’s work became a permanent part of the Museum’s collections.

• Visit the German Museum of Caricature and Drawing online at:

2022 Update: The Museum’s web pages now offer a VR tour of its galleries

Images via German Museum of Caricature and Drawing

Categories: Obituaries

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