Regarded as ‘The Master’ by cartoonists not only in Britain but around the world Searle is still drawing and continues to inspire cartoonists, illustrators, animators, film makers and artists in many fields.
"To say he is an artist is no more than the truth, but he is more than that," notes Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell. "He is our greatest living cartoonist with a lifelong dedication to his craft... his work is truly international, yet absolutely grounded in the English comic tradition."
"He had a huge effect on me," says Gerald Scarfe. "I wanted to draw like him. His pen was always searching, exploring every nook and cranny of his subject. His exciting, electric style fascinated me."
Perhaps best known in Britain for his St. Trinians and Nigel Molesworth cartoons, caricaturing life in both girls and boys public schools, this exhibition shows 140 works from across Searle's 75-year career, from his early cartoons for the Cambridge Daily News in the 1930s to political cartoons for Le Monde in the 2000s. Many of the pictures have been lent by Searle himself.
The focus is particularly on his reportage drawings which show Searle’s skill for capturing the essence of an event, character or situation.
Above: Searle's illustration for White Coolie by Ronald Hastain. Via the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre
From 1942 to 1945 Searle endured three and a half years as a prisoner of war of the Japanese working on the infamous Thai-Burma Railway. His 400 secret drawings, some of which he hid under the mattresses of prisoners dying of cholera, recorded life and death in the camps and some of these fragile drawings are included in the exhibition. His experience as a POW transformed his life and formed the basis of his later reportage work.
In the 1950s Searle captured life on the London streets, drawing sewer men and street sweepers, horse auctions and the funeral of George VI for the News Chronicle. In the 1950s and 60s he travelled the world for American magazines such as Life and Holiday. In 1961 alone, he drew the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem and the newly built Berlin Wall.
As an observer of life Searle is unparalleled: his unerring eye for the surreal and the comic can be seen in his drawings - both entertaining and revealing - from America, Canada, Germany, France, Ireland and Casablanca. In Britain he is still best known for his St Trinian’s and Molesworth drawings, but these are but one tiny chapter in his career. This exhibition shows the quality and diversity of the work he has produced over his long life.
Throughout his career Searle has studied and collected the masters of the past – Carracci, Hogarth, Gillray, Rowlandson and Cruikshank – some of whose works are included in the exhibition, as are Searle’s medals dedicated to the ‘Fathers of Caricature’, which he designed for the French Mint.
In 1995 at the age of 75 when most people are enjoying retirement, Searle took on a new challenge when he was asked by the French newspaper Le Monde to draw a weekly political cartoon. He continued to do so until 2007 when cutbacks at the paper brought the association to an end.
As a mark of the great esteem in which he is held, a number of the world’s leading cartoonists and filmmakers have produced artworks in homage to Searle and written pieces for the exhibition catalogue: Steve Bell, Roger Law, Mike Leigh, Uli Meyer, Arnold Roth, Martin Rowson, Gerald Scarfe, Posy Simmonds and Ralph Steadman.
Ronald Searle has been closely involved in the mounting of the exhibition, lending artwork and drawing materials and assisting with research through an in-depth interview.
• Ronald Searle - Graphic Master: A 90th birthday celebration runs from 3rd March until 4th July 2010.
• The exhibition is accompanied by a 160-page catalogue, price £14.99 plus P & P: UK - £3.70; Europe - £7.50; Rest of World – Airmail £13.50 or £7.50 surface mail.
To order phone 020 7580 8155, send a cheque or credit card details by fax to 020 7631 0793 or by post to The Cartoon Museum, 35 Little Russell Street, London WC1A 2HH
• The Cartoon Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10.30 - 5.30 and Sunday, 12 - 5.30
• Ronald Searle Official web site: www.ronaldsearle.com
• Ronald Searle artwork for sale: www.ronaldsearle.co.uk
• Ronald Searle Tribute Blog
• The Timse (20th February 2010): Ronald Searle recalls the bad girls of St. Trinians
The great cartoonist reveals that champagne is the secret to a long life and that he has no regrets about leaving his wife and children