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Thursday, 24 May 2012

Bateman exhibition at the Cartoon Museum

Last Friday I participated in an evening event at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury in connection with their current exhibition on the work of H M Bateman. Bateman is probably best known for his series of tableaux of social shame, 'The Man Who...' embarrassingly committed some solecism or faux pas but his long career included numerous other contributions to the cartoonist's art. (His vivid evocations of shame and humiliation resonate with Nash and Kilday's suggestion that shame continued as a compelling cultural force well beyond the period conventionally assigned to the rise of a guilt culture.)

I was asked to speak on women in the Edwardian period - Bateman has a number of rather conventionally hostile cartoons of suffragettes, but he often depicted women as terrifying and/or grotesque, and one feels that pillars of the anti-suffrage forces would not have gained any very flattering treatment either. Conversely, there are some more sympathetic portrayals of women, for example the Woman with Flat Iron and several of music hall performers. I didn't see any works illustrating 'khaki fever' in the early months of the Great War but one is rather surprised that he didn't make something of this.

It occurred to me, in my consideration of the wider changes in women's lives and their increasing move into public spaces for both work and leisure purposes, whether some of the hostility towards the suffrage movement, and the often very nasty ways in which they were portrayed, was because they were in some sense an epitome of, or a scapegoat for, disturbing changes more generally in the relations of the sexes at the period.

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