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Kate Carew, “The Only Woman Caricaturist”

Kate Carew Caricature

In the late 1800′s /early 1900 it was not easy to be a woman, especially if you were a woman with a talent. In a time when women didn’t even have voting rights, how could they be independent women artists? No way, impossible…

Yet there are some exceptions, one of them being the Californian Mary Williams (also known by the pseudonym “Kate Carew”). Kate Carew was an illustrator, “The Only Woman Caricaturist” as she was soon labelled.

Kate Carew and a caricature of herself

Her career began in New York, to where she had just moved. One day while at the theatre she found herself doodling a caricature sketch of one of the actors on a leaflet. When back home she found it and decided to send it to a newspaper, the “New York World”. Incredibly, the work caught the attention of the young editors of the paper and in a matter of days she was hired. She had her own column twice a week that featured caricatures of people at the theatre peppered with witty, humorous comments.

‘At the Theatres by Kate Carew’ caricature (1910)

Kate was an unconventional woman for her time and had such an extraordinary life. She continued making illustrations for the “New York World” – to which she became a regular contributor – and for other newspapers and travelled a lot between Europe and the States for both work and pleasure. She also married three times!

Kate Carew at work

The Angel Child comics by Kate Carew

Her most famous work is probably the series of illustrated interviews she made for the “New York World”. The list of her celebrity encounters is long and includes the like of Pablo Picasso, Mark Twain, Emile Zola, W. B. Yeats, Sarah Bernhardt, Theda Bara, along with countless others. The original and intimate chats she had with those famous people are always accompanied by lovely ink caricatures of them done by her. But here are some juicy bits from the interviews…

Mark Twain, writer

“The trouble with us in America,” said Mark Twain, “is that we haven’t learned to speak the truth.”

“Lying is not an art, not that I have ever been able to discover and I have tried hard all my life. It is a device of primitive intelligences. The best liars are savages and children. The most cultured people speak the truth as often as they think of it, and enjoy hearing it spoken by others. In heaven I shouldn’t wonder but they use the truth ‘most all the time.”

To read the full interview, click here.

Mark Twain and his caricature by Kate

Sarah Bernhardt, actress

“Is it possible, Mme. Bernhardt, to do anything great in art without having experienced a great love?”

“Oh, yes. To portray the passions one need not have lived the reality. That would be too sad. Think what we poor players would be compelled to suffer oh, la! La! If it were love alone, that would be agreeable; but there are wicked passions to be portrayed and crimes to be committed. An artist must be able to express all with truth, because within himself in the imagination he is capable of all. Then sometimes it is innocence that one portrays. Oh, an actress may play the part of a nun excellently without experiencing the purity of a nun.”

“Shu-u-u-err!” she trilled, with the most writhing and eloquent of shrugs; “shu-u-u-err! Ce grand amour n’est pas indispensable au grand art!”

Sarah Bernhardt and her caricature by Kate

W. B. Yeats, Irishman and poet

Mr. (Henry) Lucy, in discussing English and American humour, said:
“Our humor is certainly kinder. We are not as savage as you; your humour always has a butt.”
It was not many weeks later that I asked Mr. Yeats what he thought of American humour.

“It’s very unlike English humour,” he said quickly, “in being good-humoured. English humour always has a butt.”

“Dear me! That’s a precise contradiction of what Mr. Lucy said,” I gasped.

“Oh, but Mr. Lucy’s an Englishman and I’m not!” Retorted the poet with a shrug of his high shoulders and a laugh of sardonic enjoyment.

William Butler Yeats and his caricature by Kate

Pablo Picasso, artist

“Some of your women are walking to Washington to ask for a vote,” he informed me, solemnly. “For me I find that rather ridiculous. How many hours will it take them to get to Washington?”

“Hours!” I exclaimed. “Why, it will take them days. I don’t know how many, but several, certainly.”

“Perhaps you also are a suffragette”, he suggested.

“I am”, I acknowledged, with pride, “or rather I am a suffragist.”

“And the difference?” he queried like a puzzled boy.

I explained it to the best of my ability.

“You do not break windows, then, eh?” he questioned gravely.

“Not many”, I assured him cheerfully. “Have you any suffragettes in Spain, or don’t you have any votes there, anyhow?”

“Oh yes, we have votes there”, and he seemed shocked at my lack of knowledge of sunny Spain; “but I think there are no suffragettes, and I think I am glad.”

To read the full interview, click here.

Picasso