Large noses, spindly bodies, pointy chins, and exaggerated facial expressions were common, caricatural features in late-nineteenth-century printmaking.
Artists enlarged certain physical characteristics while omitting others, to heighten the distinctive appearance of the depicted individual or type.
The technique was also used to give the print a humorous or satirical charge, enabling these printmakers to create a powerful modern style that contrasted with established ideals of beauty.
Caricature in France
The use of caricature to comment satirically on politics and society was extremely popular in the early nineteenth century.
The artist Honoré Daumier had already raised the genre to a new level, and there were lots of magazines with caricatural illustrations.
Daumier was an inexhaustible source of inspiration for fin-de-siècle printmakers, many of whom also worked as illustrators, including Henri-Gabriel Ibels.
They were the first to apply elements of caricature on a large scale in ‘high’ art.
It was not only in France that printmakers found inspiration for a caricatural style — Japanese woodblock prints, which played a defining role in the development of fin-de-siècle printmaking, also frequently include grimacing figures in absurd poses.
The Nabis in particular assimilated the Japanese manner of exaggeration and stylisation in their representation of people.
Pierre Bonnard was the absolute master in this regard. His figures have a witty, flat and decorative appearance: they are, in a word, modern.
Judith Wechsler, A Human Comedy: Physiognomy and Caricature in 19th century Paris, London 1982
Judith Wechsler (red.), ‘The Issue of Caricature’, Art Journal 43 (1983), nr. 4
Patricia Eckert Boyer (red.), The Nabis and the Parisian Avant-Garde, New Brunswick 1988