News of Yore: Charles Lederer’s Calling

His Quick Pencil
Charles Lederer and His Caricatures
A Talk with the Artist.
The Best Newspaper Caricaturist in the Whole Country Speaks of His Work.
The Call (San Francisco, California) 12/13/1892

“It’s one thing to make a caricature and quite another to find the subject, and my experience has been that a successful newspaper caricature artist must have plenty of nerve and carry it with him wherever he goes.”

It was Charles Lederer who voiced this sentiment. You may judge of its truthfulness from the fact that there is not a man in all America better qualified to speak on the subject.

It is safe to put it even stronger—there is no man so well qualified, for Lederer is admittedly the best newspaper caricaturist in the country and the highest paid newspaper artist.

The Chicago Herald pays him double the salary of any other first-class artist. Other papers have offered him more, but he prefers Chicago.

He was talking to a Call reporter yesterday afternoon in his rooms at the Palace Hotel and all the while assisting a tall, stately looking, gray-haired lady—whom he introduced as “Mrs. Lederer, my mother”—to pack two stout-looking trunks that were already labeled “Monterey, Cal.”

“You know you can’t ask Governor So-and-so to sit down and let you make a caricature of him. You’ve got to engage him in conversation under the pretense of being a reporter, and while he thinks you are taking notes of what he has to say you can jot down some memoranda of his peculiarities and fix his general characteristics in your mind. That’s why I say a successful caricaturist must never leave his cheek at home when he’s going about on business.

“The best caricatures are made when the artist can have a sitting long enough to sketch the subject’s portrait and make memoranda of his peculiarities.

“You see, it’s a man’s peculiarities of facial expression, or dress, or manner of talking that must be caricatured, for the caricature must be true to life, only exaggerated.

“Sometimes a well-known man’s face is put on a very small body. That may make a humorous picture, but hardly a caricature.

“Take a man who wears his hair long and make it ridiculously long, but yet in such a way as not to spoil the likeness; that’s a legitimate caricature. Or a man with a large mouth or a peculiarly shaped nose or a characteristic attitude in speaking, or any such things, may all be caricatured so long as the likeness is there.”

“But suppose a man has no striking peculiarity? Do you meet such men?” asked The Call reporter.

“Yes; sometimes. A fair example of that is in Mayor Hempsted Washburne of Chicago. As he was the Republican candidate a year ago, of course it was my duty to caricature him. I had ample opportunity to see the man, but for the life of me could discover nothing about him to exaggerate.

“But the job had to be done somehow, so I put a monocle on one eye and a cigarette in his mouth. It made a great difference in him, and the picture caught on and stuck to him till after the election. Here, I’ll show you,” and taking up a hotel pen Mr. Lederer made some hurried sketches on The Call man’s note paper.

In about the time it takes to tell it he had sketched a portrait of the Mayor of Chicago as he is and as he looks with the cigarette and monocle.

“I found out afterward,” continued Mr. Lederer, “that Hempsted Washburne never wore a monocle and was not, as a rule, addicted to cigarettes.

“The New York papers afterward said that Chicago had elected a Mayor who wore a monocle and smoked cigarettes.

“But even that didn’t make him mad. He’s a pretty good sort of fellow. I saw him after the election, when he told me he didn’t mind my caricaturing him—it didn’t anger him a bit; but he said it did make him a little tired to be continually accused of two vices that he had never indulged in, and he added:

” ‘I wouldn’t care if I did smoke cigarettes and wear a monocle, but not doing either, you know, it was tough.’ Then he laughed and we shook hands, and I promised not to do it again.
“Yes; I did some pretty tall hustling during the national conventions. That’s why I’m out here now. Lost my summer vacation entirely on account of them.

“And the worst of it was I had to do all my work two days ahead at Minneapolis. Say the work I did on Wednesday couldn’t reach the office and be printed before Friday, and when it was published it had to be timely.

“Then, too, the very men I wanted to draw most were the ones, usually, who only appeared in public, or where they could be seen, for perhaps five minutes at a time. Say Senator so-and-so offered a resolution in the convention. Well, my caricature of him must be sketched out in the five minutes, or more or less, it took him to read his resolution.”

“Don’t you draw from photographs?” asked The Call man.

“Well, that depends. If a man’s picture is familiar to the public it is better to stick to it, for the caricature made from the original would probably not be recognized.

“But if his picture has not been printed often enough for him to be known by it then the best work can always be done from nature. I had an instance of this in Matt Quay. His photographs are always taken in profile, for very good reasons, too, for his face is positively ugly, though a strong one.

“Well, I made a caricature of him at the convention, using a full-face view, but never used it for fear it would not be recognized. It didn’t look a bit like his pictures, though it was far more natural.

“Men like Joe Keppler of Puck are often misled by the photographs they work from. Keppler came out to Chicago during the convention and was my guest at the Fellowship Club dinner, just to see whether Wanamaker compared well with his picture. Some one had told him that the Postmaster-General’s photographs were not natural. And Keppler found a big difference between them and the original.

” ‘Why,’ said he, ‘I’ve been giving Wanamaker a small, puggy nose, and I find it ought to be large and bulbous.’ “

“But most of the weekly paper caricaturists work altogether from photographs. Take Tom Nast, for instance. Do you know he never attended a national convention till he went to Minneapolis last summer? And when he got there he couldn’t stay. The excitement made him too nervous, he said, and he went right back home.”

“Are there any rules by which the young artist can learn to be a caricaturist?”

“Hardly. It’s largely a matter of intuition, I think. It’s a separate branch of the art of drawing, and I don’t believe it can be taught in the art school. A great deal has been written about caricature, but I never found much of it applicable in practical work. It’s born in a man, I think; at least, I couldn’t tell you how to do it.”

“Don’t prominent men object to be caricatured sometimes?”

“Not a as rule. But that reminds me of Congressman Joe Cannon. He’s quite a noted character in Washington. I was the first one to caricature him from life. The result was far different from those taken from his pictures. You can make a caricature more deadly, you know, if you do it from life.

“Well, I went all the way to Peoria to get a chance at Cannon from life. When I got to the hall where he was to speak I found the local reporters were to be seated at a table back of the speaker. That wouldn’t do me much good, for I didn’t care to caricature Cannon’s back. So I bribed the janitor to fix me a little table in front of the speaker’s stand, so that I could look right at him.

“Somehow or other the impression got abroad that I was the Tribune reporter, that being a Republican organ and this a Republican meeting.

“Now I’m willing to swear that I did nothing to originate that rumor, but I must confess, too, that when I heard it I did nothing to dispel it.

“Of course Cannon would rather have a column in the Chicago Tribune than a whole page in the little country papers. So when he began his speech he fixed his eyes on my table and talked right at me all the time.

“He thought I was taking notes of his speech, and sometimes during his eloquent periods he would stride right over to my table. On such occasions I would cover my drawings with a piece of note-paper and make a desperate bluff at writing hen tracks, which I fondly hoped he would think were shorthand notes.

“My caricatures of him must have been strong, for I heard afterward that he was greatly incensed at them. I’ll show you what they were like.”

Again the rapid pen flew over the reporters’ rough paper, and presently—in less than ten minutes at most—”Cannon in repose” and “Cannon on the stump” were produced.

They speak for themselves and give ample reason why the victim of them should be incensed.

“But he wasn’t angry long,” continued Mr. Lederer. “One day an arm was thrown about my neck as I was walking along in Chicago. I looked up to see who it was, and almost trembled in my boots when I saw that great, yawning mouth of Joe Cannon—he has the most striking mouth I have ever seen.

“It was wreathed in smiles this time, however, and he shook hands and told me he forgave me. We talked a little as we walked along, and then, when I bade him good-by, he said, almost pathetically:

” ‘Say, old man, when you draw me again please put some teeth in the mouth? I haven’t so many, but I’m not really toothless.’

“And he opened his mouth to show me. Sure enough, there were four or five teeth, and I had entirely overlooked them.

“Whitelaw Reid was an easy mark for the caricaturist—tall and lean men usually are. This is the way I made him—”

A few movements with the scratchy hotel pen and the editor of the New York Tribune was produced.

“When one makes a face a good many times it can be done from memory, you know, as well as from the original of a photograph. Once, on a bet, I drew ex-Mayor Roche of Chicago with my eyes shut.

“It’s so long ago I don’t know whether I can do it or not,” he said in reply to The Call man’s request for a blindfold sketch. But he tried, and you can see by comparing the two caricatures that there is a striking resemblance. (see top sketch)

“Yes, I think newspaper illustrations have come to stay. When you see such papers as the New York Sun and Herald being compelled to go back to them after giving them up you can depend upon it the public demands them.

“They’re a great expense and annoyance to the management but an attractive paper can’t be run without them. True, a few big papers like the New York Times and Philadelphia Ledger get along without illustrations, but they have rather exclusive circulations and are not so popular as the others.

“The pictures appeal strongly to the masses and no paper that caters to the people can get along without them.

“Yes; I look for improvement in newspaper illustration, but the improvement will be not so much in the artists’ work as in the better methods of reproducing their sketches and in the better ink and paper used.

“By and by they will be able to make a cheap paper with a smooth surface. That will help newspaper illustrators immensely. And then I think the time will come when newspapers will be able to reproduce, perhaps by the half-tone process, the illustrations directly from the pen drawings.

“How do the San Francisco papers compare in illustrations with those in the East? Very favorably, I think. In many ways their sketches are greatly superior to some of the more pretentious New York dailies.”

Mr. Lederer and his mother left the city yesterday afternoon for the south, and upon their return here will go back to Chicago. Mr. Lederer had the pleasure of meeting several of the San Francisco newspaper men and artists during his short stay here, and yesterday The Call‘s artist, Mr. Kohler, made his acquaintance.

At the request of The Call reporter, Mr. Lederer made a few hurried freehand sketches herewith presented.

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