The Mother of Pictorial Satire: Although Most Well-Known Cartoonists Have Been Men, One of the Most Influential Early Figures in the Field Was a Woman, Mary Darly. Cartoon Historian Mark Bryant Looks at Her Influence as an Artist, Publisher and Educator

By Bryant, Mark | History Today, April 2007 | Go to article overview

The Mother of Pictorial Satire: Although Most Well-Known Cartoonists Have Been Men, One of the Most Influential Early Figures in the Field Was a Woman, Mary Darly. Cartoon Historian Mark Bryant Looks at Her Influence as an Artist, Publisher and Educator


Bryant, Mark, History Today


THOUGH OFTEN OVERLOOKED in histories of the subject, women have played a significant part in the development of cartoons and caricature in Britain from its beginnings in the days of Hogarth almost 300 years ago right up to the present. Perhaps the best-known early figure is James Gillray's publisher and close friend Mrs Hannah Humphrey (c.1745-1818), who not only produced a great many of his most celebrated prints but also gave him lodgings above her shop until he died. A number of others are listed in the British Museum's huge collection of Political and Personal Satires in its Department of Prints & Drawings, a large part of which was itself catalogued by a woman, Dr Dorothy George. However, the mother of them all, perhaps, was the eighteenth-century artist, engraver, writer, printseller, publisher and teacher, Mary Dally (fl.1756-79), who also wrote, illustrated and published the first ever manual on how to draw caricatures.

Mary Darly was not the first woman caricaturist, however. This honour is generally accorded to Dorothy Boyle, Countess of Burlington (1699-1758). Born two years after Hogarth, she died six years before him. Other early exponents included Lady Craven, Lavinia Countess Spencer and Lady Diana Beauclerk, and by the turn of the century the figure of the female caricaturist was familiar enough to appear in Maria Edgeworth's novel Belinda (1801). However, these were all amateurs, and if William Hogarth can be seen as the father of professional modern British cartoons and caricature then Mary Darly could be called the art form's true mother.

Herself a near-contemporary of Hogarth, Mary was the wife of the printseller, engraver and caricaturist Matthew (or Matthias) Darly (fl. 1749-88) and by 1756 they were running a printshop together in Church Court opposite Hungerford Market (near what is now Hungerford Bridge) in London. By 1762 Mary also had a shop in Ryder's Court, Cranbourne Alley, near Leicester Fields (modern Leicester Square) and in 1765 they opened at 39 The Strand on the corner of Buckingham Street.

The Darlys were the first printsellers to specialize in caricatures and began with political subjects (frequently attacking the government of Lord Bute). From 1756 to 1766 they were the leaders in this field, publishing early drawings by Henry Bunbury, Gillray and others, as well as their own designs. After 1766 they concentrated on satirizing fashion and the beau-monde with equal success.

The Darlys' shop was one of the first to sell ready-made artists' colours and materials and in addition Mary and her husband gave lessons in drawing and engraving caricatures. They also advertised for amateurs to submit sketches for publication and amongst their most famous customers was the distinguished soldier and politician George, 4th Viscount and 1st Marquess of Townshend (1724-1807). Townshend was one of the first successful portrait caricaturists and, according to Horace Walpole, 'His genius for likeness in caricatura is astonishing' (1757).

Part of Townshend's success was due to the fact that in 1756 the Darlys began publishing his drawings as small, playing-card-size, sixpenny prints which could be sent by post. The first of these was 'The Pillars of State', satirizing the Duke of Newcastle (Townshend's uncle) and Henry Fox, and later the same year came his celebrated attack on the Duke of Cumberland, 'Gloria Mundi'. From 1756 to 1766 these little prints by Townshend and others were republished by Mary as pocket-sized annuals under the general title A Political and Satyrical History of the Year 1756 (etc). As Dorothy George has said: 'In these books the term "caricature" for political print became established. …

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