Fitzrovia’s wonderful Cartoon Museum in Wells Street has caught the spirit of the times with a very topical exhibition: Hail to the Chief!? It features witty and revealing caricature portraits by award winning political cartoonist Martin Rowson, and insightful and acerbic pen portraits by Andrew Gimson, author of The Rise of Boris Johnson.
Rowson’s delightful and sometimes quite vicious drawings of POTUSes past and present continue the tradition of political satire, established in England in the late eighteenth century by James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson. Their expressions reveal their inner secrets, from the smug to the seedy to the downright sinister. At a time when the TV show Spitting Image is enjoying a revival, with a whole new cast of celebrities, Royals and politicians to lampoon, it is a pleasure to see the power of simple lines of black pen and ink on paper.
The exhibition accompanies the book Gimson’s Presidents: Brief Lives from Washington to Trump in which he explores how the United States got from George Washington, a president often hailed as a moral exemplar, to Donald Trump, a man widely denounced as a disgrace? Is Trump part of the American tradition, or a dreadful aberration?
Established in 2006 the Cartoon Museum was relaunched in Fitzrovia in July 2019, and I highly recommend a visit. There is something for all ages in the fascinating permanent collection and the changing exhibitions.
Hail to the Chief!? Brief Lives of America’s Best and Worst Presidents. The Cartoon Museum, 63 Wells Street, Fitzrovia, London W1T 3PT. To 31 December 2020. Entry included in general admission ticket. Open Thursday 11:00–20:00, Friday – Sunday 11:00–16:00.
Clive Jennings is arts editor of Fitzrovia News. He is an artist, curator, gallerist and art dealer. Follow him on Instagram @clivejenningsart