Article by JMB
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Ronald Searle begins his career in the pre-war press, while studying at the Cambridge School of Arts. In April 1939 he joined the army, which finally leads him to Singapore where, shortly after his arrival, the Japanese captured him along with the whole British garrison. The captivity of these men took place in very atrocious conditions. Throughout this ordeal which will last until September 6, 1945, the artist Searle clandestinely drew a testimony of his 43 months of hell. About these works, he said they are « the graffiti of a condemned man, intending to leave a rough witness of his passing through, but who found himself – to his surprise and delight – among the reprieved ».
Shortly after his return to England he exhibited in Cambridge 300 drawings he produced since 1939. A book, reproducing 40 of his works drawn in captivity, is published. This is the first book of Ronald Searle’s long bibliography. We will talk about his other books in the second part of our article.
From March 6 to July 6, 1986, his war drawings are exhibited at the Imperial War Museum in London. On this occasion, Searle published the story of his war years, accompanied by drawings of this period, in the book To the Kwai - and Back, which is published in the UK by Collins Publishers and in the United States by The Atlantic Monthly Press.
Soon after the return of Searle to civilian life, his career as a cartoonist is pretty well launched. All facets of his talent are revealing and his fame is growing. He participated in an incredible number of magazines where he draws realistic illustrations for short novels, for announcement of radio plays, as well as cabochons, advertising, graphical reports, ironic portraits, caricatures, current events cartoons and, especially, countless humorous cartoons.
Illustrations in the magazine John Bull in 1947 & 1948
Ads of radio plays
Pictured ads, published from 1947 to 1953
An article published in The Studio in January 1949
Jungle dance, East Africa.
Drawing done in1946, published in The Studio in June 1949
In this issue of The Studio, Bernard Denvir, author of the article "Ronald Searle without a smile", wrote: « On troop-ships and in Africa, in gaol and in the jungle, Searle developed as clearly and probably far more surely than if he had been working at art schools here in England. Not only did he achieve greater powers of penetration and understanding, but his line became surer, more revealing, and less susceptible to the occasional lapses into facility which recur from time to time in his work ».
Graphical report by Searle in the United States, published in two issues of Punch in July 1957
Centerfold portraits published in Punch in October and December 1956
R. Hirsch & M. Boudet in the G. Feydeau play: “Un fil à la patte”, in Paris
Theatrical caricature published in Punch December 16, 1962
Current events cartoon published in Punch November 19, 1958
Cartoons published in Lilliput in the years 1946-1948
Ronald Searle's fame exploded with his long series of cartoons featuring schoolgirls of the unlikely institution St Trinian's, from 1946. The profile of these young girls, just as amoral as sadistic, created a buzz in the quiet of the after war United Kingdom. They will become such a part of British mythology that a serious publication like The Times has referred more than once to ‘triniamism’, confident that this will be immediately comprehensive to its readers. The popularity of these characters of little but awful devils crossed the borders.
Cartoon published in London Opinion August 1953
Cartoons published in Paris Match April 18, 1953
Major newspapers in France, the United States, Germany, Italy and other countries, publishing his drawings throughout his career.
Cartoons published in Paris Match 6 February 1954
Cartoon published in Marie France in August 1992
Drawing published in Sky in March 1996
Cartoon published in Paris Match October 15, 1998
To top off this presentation devoted to the press, here is - with the friendly permission of Alain Grandremy, the cartoon Searle especially made to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the famous French satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné, in 1996.
The work of Ronald Searle is not limited to his press drawings and all his books; there are other artistic creations which will be discussed later.
I cannot end without paying a tribute to the late cartoonist Roland Fiddy, who friendly gave me his big collection of old British press cuttings concerning Ronald Searle, whom he was a keen fan too.
article by JMB
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