Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Robert Dighton's Caricatues

The author Dion Clayton Calthrop said in an article about the Regency-era artist Robert Dighton, “The essence of caricature is polite laughter and polished attack.” That description seems to fit Dighton’s theatrical portraits, which are well worth a look.

Dighton was born in 1752 and lived until 1814. He first exhibited his work at the Free Society of Artists when he was only seventeen, and he continued to exhibit from 1769 to 1773. In 1775 he exhibited some drawings at the prestigious Royal Academy, but his fame came from more popular works.

In December of 1806, Dighton published a portrait of Angelica Catalani, the famed opera singer who caused much controversy on the London stage. Rumored to be mistress to the brutal politician Lord Castlereagh, Catalani became a target of numerous xenophobic attacks. Dighton's hand-colored caricature of her is sympathetic, though, showing her in the opera Semiramide by Rossini.

Another famous caricature Dighton did was of the actor Stephen Kemble, who was famous for playing Falstaff without needing any extra padding for the role. Kemble allegedly weighed 18 stone, about 250 pounds. Sadly, Dighton's depiction of Kemble playing Hamlet is less than sympathetic.

By the way, Kemble was brother to both John Kemble and the enormously popular Sarah Siddons. Here's his vision of Siddons as Elvira in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's play, Pizarro:

Dighton's son Richard followed him into the print-making business. Richard Dighton later engraved a portrait of William Farren, an actor known as "The Cock Salmon" (don't ask) who famously appeared as Sir Peter Teazle in The School for Scandal, also by Sheridan.

Farren, by the way, essentially acted as stepfather to the Victorian actress Helen Faucit. Much to Faucit's embarrassment, Farren had carried on an illicit affair with her mother. The actor did eventually marry his live-in mistress, but only after Faucit's father died.

And you thought your parents were embarrassing....