Caricaturist Conrado W. Massaguer and His Contemporaries

In little more than a week, a Wolfsonian Library installation titled Caricaturas will open to complement an exhibition in our fifth-floor gallery dedicated to Cuban art director, publisher, illustrator, and caricaturist, Conrado Walter Massaguer (1889–1965).



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gifts of Vicki Gold Levi

This new installation will include works by the world-renowned Cuban caricaturist but will also feature the satirical portraits made by other Latin American artists.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi

In tandem with the proliferation of popular magazines and periodicals in the early twentieth century, the caricature provided something better than an “objective” or photographic image of politicians and celebrities; by exaggerating easily recognizable facial features, mannerisms, or physiques of popular figures, the caricature combined portraiture with pictorial wit. Caricature rose to prominence both as a byproduct of mass media and celebrity culture, and as an important shaper of public opinion.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi

The modern caricature in Latin America developed in the aftermath of independence from Spanish rule, which tolerated no political dissent, humorous or otherwise. As the liberated colonies became nations, caricaturists emerged to celebrate their new cultural identities, but also to wage ideological war and to lampoon the incompetence and corruption of new political elites. Even during the era of the Cuban Republic, caricaturists frequently found themselves in trouble with disgruntled political leaders, angered by their satires. Conrado Massaguer despised Cuban president Alfredo de Zayas y Alfonso and his Conservative Party vice-president, General Francisco Carrillo, as his caricatures made clear.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

Although originally supportive of their successor, Gerardo Machado, once the latter broke his campaign promise and extended his term of office, caricaturists Massaguer, José Cecilio Hernández Cárdenas (Hercar), Ramon Arroyo Cisneros (Arroyito), and Juan Eduardo David Posada (David) all used their satirical wit to embarrass the Cuban President and all were subjected to arrest or fled the island into temporary exile.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi

Caricatures circulated widely either on or between the covers of popular magazines published in the Caribbean, and the South and North American continents. Massaguer’s caricatures of Cuban politicos, world leaders, artists, celebrities, and stars of the silver screen regularly appeared in the “Ellos” and “Cine” sections of his flagship magazine, Social (Havana).






The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan





 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gifts of Vicki Gold Levi

His popular illustrations also graced the covers of Carteles (Havana) and Cosmopolitan (New York), and could also be found within the pages of Vanity Fair (New York), and numerous syndicated newspapers.


Contemporary Cuban caricaturists, such as David (Juan Eduardo David Posada, 1911–1981), Hercar (José Cecilio Hernández Cárdenas, 1904–1957), Arroyito (Ramon Arroyo Cisneros, Cuban, 1901–?) also achieved real popularity in that island nation. Their caricatures were reproduced both in Massaguer’s publications, and in the pages of his chief rival, Bohemia (Havana), though only a few of these artists achieved the international acclaim that Massaguer received.

David made his public debut with a solo exhibition in Santa Clara, Cuba in 1931, and was arrested soon after for his political opposition to the regime of President Gerardo Machado. Following Machado’s fall from power, David moved to Havana in 1935 exhibiting and winning awards for works exhibited at the Salón de Humoristas, and publishing his caricatures in the popular Cuban periodicals Social, Patria, Grafos, and Bohemia.


David caricatured a wide variety of world figures, including a scowling portrait of the Duke of Windsor, whom the artist despised as a Nazi sympathizer; a beaming Queen Elizabeth II on her ascension to the British throne; and the troubled former Venezuelan president and exiled opposition leader, Rómulo Betancourt, following a failed attempt on his life ordered by that nation’s military dictatorship.


 Loan, DiazCasas Collection, New York, N.Y


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi


Loan, Yucef Merhi

Born and raised in the Santa Amalia barrio of Havana, the Afro-Cuban boxer José Hernández Cárdenas also won renown as a graphic humorist. His first illustrations were featured in the periodical El País under the pseudonym “Juvenal” in 1923; the following year he participated in the Fourth Salón de Humorismo under his penname, Hercar, a contraction of his two surnames. As early as 1934, he was jailed for lampooning Fulgencio Batista, the army leader who overthrew President Machado the year before. Hercar continued to pen portraits critical of many Cuban politicos, and he was arrested numerous times after Batista returned to power in a 1952 coup.


Loan, DiazCasas Collection, New York, N.Y

Arroyito was born in Havana in 1901, and began publishing caricatures in La Semana, his own periodical, Karikato, and later in Bohemia. Cuban President Machado’s anger over his satires forced him into temporary exile. In this humorous drawing of Ramón Grau San Martin, the artist has the Cuban president demonstrating his keen grasp of the obvious as he exclaims “It appears that it is going to rain!”


Loan, DiazCasas Collection, New York, N.Y

An Arroyito portrait of Fulgencio Batista has him looking like the cat that swallowed the proverbial mouse. The description on the back of the drawing notes Batista’s rise from modest sergeant stenographer to leader of a military coup that ousted President Machado in 1933 and effectively (and often capriciously) ruled the country from behind the scenes for the next eleven years.


Loan, DiazCasas Collection, New York, N.Y

As he had during the Machado regime, Arroyito again left the country after Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries took power. He continued to produce political satires, many of them appearing in Bohemia Libre published by Cuban exiles in Venezuela.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gifts of Vicki Gold Levi

Famed bandleader Xavier Cugat (1900–1990) also earned a reputation as a splendid caricaturist, though he eschewed the biting satires of Cuban politicians that embroiled his fellow Cuban illustrators in controversy. Instead his illustrations parodied other celebrities and promoted Cuban music and culture. He is pictured here working on one of six full-page color illustrations of Latin-American musicians and dancers that appeared in The American Weekly, and in self-portraits that decorated his autobiography and one of his record jackets.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gifts of Vicki Gold Levi

Of Massaguer’s contemporaries, only Mexican artist and ethnographer Miguel Covarrubias (1904–1957) rivaled his reputation for caricature in the United States of America. Covarrubias moved to New York City in 1924 where he famously documented the Harlem Renaissance, published his first book of celebrity caricatures the following year, and regularly provided illustrations for the covers of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Historical Design

Covarrubias was not afraid of using his pictorial wit to puncture the inflated egos of world leaders and rising dictators. When Italian officials complained about Covarrubias’ depiction of Mussolini on the cover of Vanity Fair, Condé Nast editors diplomatically replied that unlike the photograph, a “conspicuous caricature” provided “vivid interpretation” of the personalities, and ought to be regarded as “an acknowledgement of world importance, rather than an insult.”

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Covarrubia’s wit and humor are in evidence in his satirically titled book of caricatures, The Prince of Wales and Other Famous Americans, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1925.



 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Historical Design

Within its pages, Covarrubias lampooned all sorts of famous Americans and international celebrities, ranging from U.S. president Calvin Coolidge, silent film star Charlie Chaplin, industrialist John D. Rockefeller, and baseball player Babe Ruth.





 The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Historical Design

Caricaturists not only contributed to the concept of modern “celebrity”; their witty renderings sometimes made celebrities of their irreverent illustrators. Many caricaturists produced self-deprecating self-portraits or were satirized by other sketch artists.


Covarrubias self-portrait, The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Historical Design


Covarrubias caricature by Massaguer, The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gift of Vicki G. Levi

Conrado Massaguer included in his autobiography a 1916 portrait of Italian operatic tenor, Enrico Caruso, as well as one of himself made by that famous singer.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gift of Vicki Gold Levi

Another caricaturist who achieved notoriety in the United States was the Mexican illustrator, Antonio Arias Bernal (1914–1960), who was described on his death in The New York Times as “the most strident voice in Latin America against the dictators of the Second World War.” His caricatures regularly adorned the covers of Hoy [Today] and Siempre! [Always], two of the most popular weeklies of their kind in Mexico. He also made the covers of American magazines as Colliers.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

When U. S. President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to encourage neutral Latin American countries to join the Allied war effort, Arias Bernal was commissioned by the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA) to create anti-Axis posters and an illustrated deck of cards to spread that message. The posters for the project were completed eight months before the peace was signed, but the playing cards project was discontinued as the war’s end was in sight.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Martijn F. Le Coultre

Massaguer contributed some of the most memorable anti-Axis propaganda in Cuba, reproduced as magazine and cookbook illustrations and advertisements.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Promised gifts of Vicki Gold Levi

Such humorous and irreverent wartime illustrations not only poked fun at enemy leaders; they were instrumental in raising and maintaining morale on the home front. We hope that those of you living in or planning a visit to South Florida will take advantage of the opportunity to see some of these caricatures in person.

~ by "The Chief" on August 20, 2019.

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